"Your subordinate greets you, my lord!" At the sight of the man, Hong Qing bent his waist and bowed respectfully.
"Dispense with the formalities," the middle-aged scholar said casually. "Brother Hong, you've been acting too slowly recently. You've got to understand, my brother won't wait for you to carry out his plans."
Hong Qing's heart lurched. Hurriedly, he said, "It's mainly because I've been waiting for my son's cultivation breakthrough..."
"I don't care what's the reason. Trust me, you can't afford to delay the plan. Not even your entire Nine Bell Sect can," the middle-aged scholar said coldly.
"Yes..." Beads of cold sweat broke out on Hong Qing's forehead as he nodded slowly.
"At this Hundred Lineages Meeting, that woman will also be invited as a VIP guest. Given her methods, Shangyang Family will certainly not to let this opportunity go. My Eldest Brother wants you to act in coordination with the others," the middle-aged scholar instructed.
"Yes, your subordinate understands," Hong Qing hurriedly acknowledged.
"It's best that you do," the scholar nodded in satisfaction. "Alright, I've brought you the message. You've got to act fast. If necessary, you can request the Wandering God's assistance."
"Yes!" All Hong Qing could do was agree.
Even though he was the sect master of a lower three grades sect, he was in the Snake realm and was far stronger than Bind realm experts.
But despite his power, he could only bow and nod like a dog in front of the white-robed scholar. He did not even dare to straighten his back. All this was simply because the middle-aged scholar had come from the Lin Familyone of the Nine Great Families of the Central Plains.
Others might assume that the upper three grades sects in the Hundred Lineages formed mutual alliances in order to resist the pressure from the Noble Families. But anyone within their circle understood that almost every single one of the upper three grades sect was backed by a Noble Family.
Presently, the two brightest stars of the Nine Great Families of the Central Plains were Shangyang Family's Shangyang Fei and Lin Family's Lin Beikai.
Lin Beikai of the Lin Familyhe was a man born with countless halos right from the beginning of his life. At five years of age, he proposed that Noble Families should not keep within themselves and volunteered to enter the largest sect of the timethe Famed Mountain Sect. At seventeen years old, he had slain the Demon Kings of the SouthGiant Forest King and Autumn Mountain King, both existences in the middle three grades of the Snake realm.
When he was eighteen years old, he had dived into the bottom of the ocean and struck an agreement with the powerful Bright Pearl Demon Tribe which had up till then never interacted with humans. In so doing, he opened up a highway leading to immeasurable wealth for Lin Family.
When he reached nineteen years old, he stepped into the upper three grades of the Snake realm and entered the ranks of the experts who stood at the pinnacle of the Song Dynasty. From then on, the depths of his cultivation were too profound to be measured. He was even claimed to possess talent that surpassed even that of Shangyang Fei's, and was reputed to be the number one genius of the Nine Great Families of the Central Plains. Presently, most of the family's assets and resources were given to Lin Beikai and managed by him.
As the most brilliant star of the Nine Great Families of the Central Plains, Lin Beikai and Shangyang Fei often fought both openly and under the table. Both had their wins and losses.
Hong Qing guessed that the upcoming Hundred Lineages Meeting would highly likely become the battlefield on which these two stars would clash.
After the middle-aged scholar left, he heaved a sigh of relief.
'When these deities fight, calamity strikes even commoners like us... sigh...' He had no choice but to lean on Lin Family's power. That was how he had become the sect master in the first place. And now, he was past the point of no return.
'When the sect prospers in the future, there may be a chance for me to turn to another family...
And that matter concerning the Prime Devil Sect's base... it's time to settle it. That old fogy's been clutching onto it and refusing to let go. Looks like I need to use some extreme methods.' At that thought, Hong Qing looked surreptitiously at his left and right, then silently left the corner.
The Prime Devil Sect.
"And today's morning lesson will end here." Grand Elder put down the book in his hand. "Little Sheng, stay back. He Xiang, go outside and stand guard."
"Yes," He Xiangzi agreed earnestly. She stood up and backed out of the cave to stand guard outside it.
Grand Elder looked at his recently-discovered favorite disciple. After this period of imparting secret arts to him, he realized that he had already stored all the foundational secret arts into Lu Sheng's brain.
In that case, he was left with that very last thing...
Grand Elder fell into a silence and did not speak a word.
Lu Sheng kept quiet too. He could sense that something made today different from other days. Grand Elder seemed to be making an extremely weighty decision.
The two of them sat in silence.
After a long while...
"Little Sheng, you haven't been meeting any problems in your cultivation, have you?" Grand Elder asked softly.
"None at all. Everything's going smoothly," Lu Sheng replied seriously. The duty of the teacher was to impart, instruct and enlighten. In this respect, Grand Elder had fulfilled his role. Hence, it did not matter what blood flowed through his veins; he deserved Lu Sheng's respect.
"That's good." Grand Elder sighed.
'It's a pity... how I wish I had met Little Sheng a few years earlier...' he mused. No matter how talented Lu Sheng was, he would at most be at Level Three or Four of Karmaless Skill now.
The average disciple needed at least a year to fully master Level One of Karmaless Skill. For Lu Sheng to have been able to break through to Level Three in the short span of several months, he was already extremely impressive.
But in the context of the Hundred Lineages Meeting, such a cultivation was thoroughly useless. Without a first seat, without an heir, the sect had no hope.
"I've already imparted all the secret arts to you. As for the details of the cultivation process, we can deal with them only as you encounter them in time to come. There's nothing we can do about it now, so let's put it aside," Grand Elder remarked. "Today, there's one last thing I need you to commit to memory.
The content I'm about to pass on to you this time is different from the usual. It's extremely, extremely important. You absolutely must remember it. You must not forget it!"
"Yes. Your disciple will surely memorize it!" Lu Sheng nodded solemnly.
Grand Elder thought for a while, as if he was tidying his thoughts and mentally arranging their content.
"What exactly is the Devil? That day when I led you to the secret arts hall, it was to see a Devil sealed under it. I'm guessing you have a preliminary impression of Devils by now," he explained simply, "Devils can be human; they can also be ghosts; they can even by demons or Noblemen. Devils are a form of life that can shape-shift into different disguises. They're a mutant form of existence that possess extremely potent contaminating powers. Moreover, once one is infected, the mutation is irreversible."
"Your disciple recalls from the data in the library that Devils can induce Devil Disasters?" Lu Sheng asked with a frown on his brows.
"That's right." Grand Elder nodded. "Devils possess extremely terrifying contaminating powers. Once one makes physical contact with a Devil, that person will swiftly mutate. They haven't got any secret arts or magical abilities. All they depend on are their horrifyingly powerful physical bodies. You'll see what I mean in time to come. Compared to Anomalies, they're more deadly, more violent, and more uncontainable."
Lu Sheng made no sound as he continued listening to Grand Elder's explanation.
"That was why our sect has studied Devils for several generations. Finally, after exerting great efforts, we created a method to hide our own presence and aura from Devils. And that is what I'm about to impart to you today. Although it won't be of much use to you for the time being, no one can say for sure what will happen in the future," Grand Elder said emotionlessly.
"Your disciple understands." Lu Sheng nodded solemnly.
"Alright. Let's begin, then." Grand Elder cleared his throat and began formally explaining the secret art that hid one from Devils. In actual fact, this secret art was essentially the Prime Devil Secret Art.
But he had over-exaggerated the aura-hiding effects of it and omitted its other stronger actual combat effects.
As the highest accomplishment of the Prime Devil Sect, the Prime Devil Secret Art naturally contained content that far surpassed other mantras in profundity and depth.
Lu Sheng had only memorized a small portion of it before he started sensing that something was wrong. How could a secret art designed to merely hide the aura contain so much content associated with other aspects?
The profundity of this secret art was even much higher than the Ghost Face Mantra's.
It did not take long before he guessed that this was basically the Prime Devil Secret Art.
"...the key to this secret art lies in cultivating and producing Devil Light," Grand Elder explained the essence of the skill. "Devil Light can hide one's presence at the most fundamental level such that even Devils cannot detect it.
And that's the main content of the secret art. If you have the opportunity to cultivate it... forget it, let's not talk about that first. Memorize the meditation diagram." Grand Elder took out a rolled parchment and unfurled it.
A diagram of black flames that formed a whirlpool had been drawn clearly on the parchment. At the center of the flames was the faint shape of an ear. It was a pale white ear, completely devoid of any color. It looked as if someone was listening through the whirlpool.
"The name of this secret art is Phantom Listening Skill. Don't forget it. Next, let's revise Karmaless Skill's..."
"Sect Master Liu Shan. The invitation has arrived." Without warning, a deep male voice rang out from outside the cave.
Surprised, Grand Elder paused.
"Sect Master Liu Shan?" The man outside the cave was puzzled.
"Teacher?" Lu Sheng called out softly.
"Oh. Yes. Please come in. Emissary, please enter." Grand Elder came back to his senses.
The cave door opened slowly. A long-haired man with sideburns strode into the cave. He first bowed in greeting before Grand Elder before placing a dark golden invitation card on the table before Grand Elder.
"I've delivered the invitation and will take my leave now." The man retreated out of the cave slowly.
Grand Elder stared dumbly at the invitation on the table, frozen.
'It's finally time...' He lifted his head and stared at Lu Sheng with glazed and lost eyes. Then he glanced at He Xiangzi who stood outside the door and the items in his cave.
The study table decorated with snake motifs, the shiny sculpture on the wall, and the scratch marks left behind on the ground from his training when he had been young...
But now, everything that was familiar was about to leave him.
"I..." Grand Elder sucked in a deep breath of air. "I'm... going to attend a gathering... Little Sheng."
"Your disciple is here," Lu Sheng acknowledged with bowed head.
"Next is the second homework I've designed for you." Grand Elder did his level best to compose himself.
"This letter." He took out a sealed envelope from his chest, placed it on the table and pushed it towards Lu Sheng.
"Take this and pass it to the City Lord of the Dancing Phoenix City."
"The City Lord of the Dancing Phoenix City?" Lu Sheng was surprised.
"Indeed. The Dancing Phoenix City is quite a distance away from the White Bell City. Leave this very day. Go early and come back early. When you're on the road... don't delay," Grand Elder instructed seriously.
"Then Teacher, you'll"
Lu Sheng was interrupted by Grand Elder before he could finish. "I'm going to attend the gathering and won't be back anytime soon. Your Senior Apprentice Sister He Xiangzi has another mission and cannot replace you. This is a very important mission. Don't slacken in your efforts," Grand Elder repeated his instruction.
Suddenly, steam arose from a metal teapot on the table.
Grand Elder glanced at the teapot, shut his eyes and fell silent. "Go. Don't delay. Oh yes, our Prime Devil Sect's got a secret passageway you've never traveled.
Just as a precaution in case any emergencies happen in the future, you'll leave from this secret passageway today to familiarize yourself with it, Little Sheng."
"He Xiang, lead your Junior Apprentice Brother to the passageway."
"Yes, Teacher." He Xiangzi entered the cave. Lu Sheng rose quickly too. Without any further ado, they left the cave and disappeared in the darkness beyond the door, leaving Grand Elder seated alone in his cave.
The chilly wind blew into the cave. Not a sound could be heard.
After a long while, he stood up slowly and lifted his head.
"Ancestors..." He sighed at length. Choking on his words, tears streamed down the sides of his face.
"Swish swish swish!!"
In the Prime Devil Sect, black silhouettes streaked across the walls like bats in the night.