Strolling along the dark narrow passageway, neither Lu Sheng nor He Xiangzi spoke a word.
The passageway was long. Beginning from under the stone pillar in the middle of the Prime Devil Sect, it extended deep into the ground. Nobody knew when it had been dug and the walls were covered in green luminescent algae.
"Teacher seems to be acting strange," He Xiangzi blurted out after a long period of silence.
"..." Lu Sheng looked at He Xiangzi, thinking to himself, 'Duh?'
Any person with an ounce of sensitivity could notice that Grand Elder was acting out of sorts. But He Xiangzi was clearly just slow.
"Recently, the sect's just left with the two of us. Teacher has also been imparting many things to both of us. Junior Apprentice Brother, your talent is better than mine, so teacher should have imparted more to you." He Xiangzi paused. Walking ahead of Lu Sheng without turning back, she continued, "But I'm clear that if I were in your shoes, there's no way I could have memorized so much content in such a short period of time. That's why I'm not jealous of the better treatment you've been receiving from teacher."
Lu Sheng had no idea what he should say.
"Alright." He Xiangzi soon arrived before an old black door. "This is the exit that leads to the world outside." She pointed at the door and said softly, "Junior Apprentice Brother, open the door and follow the path behind it upwards. After a joss stick's span, you'll reach the surface.
I have my mission, too, so I won't stay to chat. Take care, Junior Apprentice Brother."
"Mm. Thank you, Senior Apprentice Sister." Lu Sheng nodded.
He Xiangzi stood before the door, staring seriously at the old door. For a moment, she seemed to space out. But it did not last long and she soon turned around and retraced her steps. Soon, she vanished into the darkness.
Lu Sheng stood where he was and sucked in a deep breath of air.
In actual fact, he knew that Grand Elder was intentionally sending him away through the secret passageway with an excuse. His purpose was to preserve the Prime Devil Secret Art which he had imparted to Lu Sheng.
For him to have sent Lu Sheng away through the secret passageway so urgently, he had probably discovered something amiss.
"For a sect leader of Grand Elder's level to sense that trouble is coming, that trouble must at least be in the realm of Snake. It's a pity I've decided to leave..."
Indeed, he had already planned to leave before the Hundred Lineages Meeting.
The Prime Devil Sect's survival was of no concern to him. He had no reason to expose his true strength for a sect he had joined for hardly more than several months.
Anyone could tell the difference between Three-Vein Level and Snake realm. It was not a gap that could be crossed in merely a few months.
Lu Sheng had only joined the sect for several months. Should he display his Snake realm power to turn the tides for the sect, the consequences would be unimaginable.
Hence, despite knowing that Grand Elder might be faced with trouble, Lu Sheng did not offer his help.
"It might not necessarily be a bad thing to let fate take its course and allow the Prime Devil Sect to disappear completely." He sighed. Walking up to the door, he pushed gently.
The heavy door was pushed open by a gap. Lu Sheng took a final glance behind him, then turned and strode through the gap in the door.
The heavy iron chain broke under the slash.
The doors of the secret arts hall smashed open and three dark silhouettes entered the Courtyard of Punishment, staring straight at Grand Elder Liu Shanzi who stood right in its center.
"Who dares to intrude!?" Grand Elder shouted sternly. "Do you not know that you stand in the territory of the Prime Devil Sect's headquarters?"
Two of the black silhouettes remained silent and looked at the one behind them.
"Liu Shanzi, don't blame me. If you have to blame someone, blame yourself for your stubbornness." A familiar voice rang out.
Grand Elder's eyes widened like saucers.
"Cut the crap! Move!!" That man in black was small in stature. He took a step back and did not act in person.
The two other men in black, on the other hand, leapt forward. Astonishingly, their movements exactly mirrored that of each other. Waving their palms in midair, they shot out a jet of black smoke each. Within the black smoke, a long halberd appeared each and landed in their hands.
"Secret ArtNew Moon!"
The two of them struck with their halberds at the same time, lightning quick. In the rolling cloud of black smoke, the faint glint of blood glowed at the tip of the halberds ominously, piercing towards Grand Elder at top speed.
Without any change in expression, Grand Elder closed his palmsa savage-looking giant black snake swam out from behind him in that split second and pounced towards the two halberds.
The black snake was as thick as man's waist. Sharp black spikes grew out of its head like lion mane. The moment it appeared, it hissed ferociously at the two black men and rammed against them.
"That's all there is to the Prime Devil Secret Art? What a joke! It's really a waste of such a large treasure of a place this base is!" The black-robed man laughed coldly. "Isn't it simply a gathering of one's Yin thoughts?"
Grand Elder did not speak a word as he continued to command the giant snake in combat with the two men.
As he had expected, the Prime Devil giant snake was held up by the two men. His opponent had been right. In his branch of the Prime Devil Secret Artwhich was Phantom Listening Skillthe essence of his combat power lay in gathering one's own Yin thoughts.
All the previous stages of meditation on Yin Flames, separating one's worldly thoughts... etc., were all for the purpose of purifying the mind, ordering the unordered with the orderly and controlling the chaotic with the pure.
Although it also had some body strengthening effects, it paled in comparison with other sects' skills in that department.
Due to the differences in individual personalities, the Yin Devils born out of one's worldly thoughts by Phantom Listening Skill varied wildly. Their strength depended on the person.
Because it did not involve the use of the bloodline, it had near universal compatibility. Any person of any Nobleman bloodline could cultivate it.
In the final stage when one combined all Yin Devils with oneself, one could attain the supreme Dao of the Prime Devil and be drastically strengthened physically. But in its early stages, when the Prime Devil Secret Art had not yet been cultivated to its pinnacle, its cultivators were significantly weaker than other sects'.
The long halberds swung and turned in the hands of the black-robed men. The red streaks of light shot out by the halberds' blades continually turned and hacked in midair. Each strike contained terrifying force.
Before long, the black snake was covered from head to tail in wounds and looked gravely injured.
Its scales, which were impenetrable even by Seven-Vein Level experts, were presently cracking and shattering under the two men's ferocious strikes, revealing translucent black flesh and bones under them.
If used in wars that spanned large areas, the might of Yin Devils was sufficient to plunge any being not in the Snake realm into despair. But against the combined assault of these two men in black who mirrored each other, the Yin Devil black snake could not last even a joss stick's duration.
"I know you've got more than one Yin Devil." The short black-robed man snickered. "Don't hide anymore. Bring them all out. Let me take a good look at what else the supposed strongest secret art of the Prime Devil Sect has up its sleeves."
Without speaking a word, Grand Elder waved his arm again. A majestic lion, with black flames for its mane, stepped out behind him slowly.
The lion roared and entered its attacking pose.
But Grand Elder pointed a finger at him.
The lion of black flames distorted suddenly and turned into a ball of black smog, which flew into his chest rapidly.
"BOOM!" Black flames like those that had been on the lion now burst into life around Grand Elder. The muscles all over his body slowly expanded and his face returned to the smoothness of youth. Shockingly, he seemed to have turned several decades younger in an instant.
"Come on! You want this old man's life. Let's see if you've got what it takes!"
He Xiangzi strode along another passageway in the cavern briskly.
This was a cultivation passageway that was rarely used by the sect's members. Back when the Prime Devil Sect had many disciples, many would practice some movement secret arts akin to qinggong here. But without those disciples now, this passageway fell into desertion.
'Teacher asked me to deliver a letter to the Grand Marshall in Pine Stone City. And he asked junior apprentice brother to go to the Dancing Phoenix City. The sect's already low in members and now with the two of us gone, it's left with just him alone. I wonder what's going on in his mind.' He Xiangzi had always known that she was not too bright and, in fact, rather slow. Hence, she could not understand things that others could.
In fact, even when things were really obvious, they were still rather vague and puzzling to her.
But although she was not too clever, she was clear about thing: she would do good unto those who did good unto her.
"Thud, thud, thud..."
The sound of footsteps echoed in the passageway.
All of a sudden, He Xiangzi paused in her steps and lifted her gaze.
A black silhouette, cloaked entirely in black, was walking towards her from the opposite direction. He was headed for the main section of the Prime Devil Sectthe stone wall where the living quarters were.
"Gotcha." At the sight of He Xiangzi, the black shadow paused in his steps too. "To think that I'd find you along this path."
He Xiangzi was seized with surprise. Immediately, however, she realized what was going on and her face fell.
"You've still got a junior apprentice brother, haven't you? Looks like you've been abandoned as bait and decoy, eh?" the black shadow said calmly. "Are you bitter? Liu Shanzi betrayed you for the sake of a disciple who has joined the sect for barely a few months. He sacrificed you to cover that man's escape."
Upon hearing that, He Xiangzi finally realized why teacher would ask her to walk along this passageway alone.
In that moment, many thoughts flashed across her mind. She wanted to confront her teacher and ask him why he would do that. But when she recalled Grand Elder's strange behavior at the final moment as well as the unusual expression on junior apprentice brother's face at that time, realization dawned on her.
"Why should I be bitter?" Composure was restored on He Xiangzi's face. "I'm not smart, and many have often called me slow, stupid. But since I was young till now, only teacher has ever been good to me. If this is his mission for me, then I am willing to accept it."
The black shadow fell into silence.
"Liu Shanzi... has got a good disciple." A hint of envy flashed across him as he sighed.
"Forget it. You guys can settle this. Leave me out of it." He turned around and leapt towards the distance. Abruptly, he vanished in midair.
In the darkness, several figures surrounded He Xiangzi.
A drop of water landed on the back of Lu Sheng's palm and then burst and splattered in all directions, struck by the mighty force and speed.
In the dark passageway, Lu Sheng raced across the uneven wet ground.
In merely half or even less than half the duration of a joss stick, he arrived at the end of the passageway.
The passageway was without even a glimmer of light. There was not even luminescent algaeonly damp, hard walls. Above him was a forest of stalactites, from which the drop of water had fallen.
Lu Sheng kept running. With each tap of his feet against the ground, his whole body would shoot forward a great distance like an arrow. Had it not been for the twists and turns of the passageway, he would have traveled even faster.
Before long, another old black metal door emerged in his view.
There were no patterns or embellishments on the metal door, as if its builder had simply carried a plate of metal to this spot and used it to block the path.