"This should be what Chen Quansong was talking about last time," Lu Sheng guessed.
He packed his items, changed into a new suit of robes, got leave from his teacher and soon left the Prime Devil Sect for White Bell City.
Without stopping, he reached White Bell City in about a joss stick's duration.
He followed the route he had taken the last time and soon arrived in the restaurant he was in previously.
"The Winter Cypress".
That was the name of the restaurant. Presently, its entrance was guarded by several young ladies dressed in yellow robes. They looked like ordinary mortals, but a closer scrutiny revealed that each of them carried some unique features on them.
Some of them had extremely pale and fair skin. Some of their pupils spun like whirlpools. Some of them had arms wrapped in bandages.
At the sight of Lu Sheng, one of the young ladies approached him in greeting.
"Lord Lu Sheng, Master is waiting for you on the second level."
"Mm, many thanks." Lu Sheng nodded and could not help but take another glance at this lady.
There was the aura of ghosts on her. And the power of black membrane. As well as some eccentric aura unknown to him.
"We're the Moon Ghost Guard under Lord Jiuli's command. There's a total of five of us. We'll look normal to you once you get used to us," the lady introduced openly. "I'm the captain of the guardBian Ning."
"So it's Ms Ning." Lu Sheng followed her up the stairs to the second story. The entire restaurant had been reserved for the day by the Shangyang Family.
A table filled with dishes stood in the middle of the empty story. Shangyang Jiuli was sitting distractedly at the table, toying with a white jade cup in her hand. Her thoughts were known only to herself.
"Lord Jiuli." Lu Sheng stepped forward in greeting.
"Lu Sheng, you're here. It's been a long time." Shangyang Jiuli snapped out of reverie, rose up and gestured Lu Sheng to be seated.
"Your subordinate has been busy with his studies. I wonder why My Lord has summoned me here?" Lu Sheng sat down slowly.
Shangyang Jiuli smiled. She looked much milder and more amicable than when she had been back in the Northern Lands. But, a trace of fatigue was detectable in her eyes.
"Well, I didn't want to call you back, seeing how well you were developing in the Prime Devil Sect. But right now, I've got an opportunity for one of my men to reach the skies in one step. Among all my subordinates, you're the most suitable. So after much thought, I decided that it's best to call for you."
"Oh?" Lu Sheng's eyes narrowed. "An opportunity to reach the skies in one step?"
"Indeed." Shangyang Jiuli smiled. "Shangyang Ruo, one of my cousins, has reached the age for marriage. Her looks are hard to match and her grandpa's one of the three Residential Elders in our Shangyang Family, thus holding great authority. I've submitted your profile and they've selected you as the most suitable candidate. Now, they plan to have the two of you meet in person."
Lu Sheng stared at her blankly. Never did he expect that Shangyang Jiuli would summon him for this.
"This... this..." He had no idea how to respond at all. Truth be told, Shangyang Jiuli had treated him rather well. Back in the Northern Lands, he had also often used the name of Shangyang Family as a shield for his faction. But when it came to such a matter...
"Don't worry. This is an opportunity for you. As long as you get married successfully with Shangyang Ruo, one of the three Residential Elders would become your relative. Shangyang Ruo's the biological granddaughter he dotes on the most. Now that his sons and daughters have died, this granddaughter is his only family.
So if you're married to Shangyang Ruo, you'll definitely become the closest person to that Residential Elder. I'm sure you understand the benefits that come from such a position," Shangyang Jiuli explained.
"I..." Lu Sheng did not care about any Residential Elder to be honest. Neither did he like such transactional, mercenary marriages. He wanted to refuse, but...
"I've already set things up for you. This is a golden opportunity that people would kill for. Cherish it," Shangyang Jiuli continued. "I understand you've still got a secondary wife in the Northern Lands. Just fetch her over. Shangyang Ruo isn't some woman with a small heart. They already know about the situation."
Lu Sheng thought for a moment. It would not look good to reject her offer directly when Shangyang Jiuli must have had put in great effort to arrange it. It would be best if the other party herself did not like him.
But should she really be interested in him, he would have no way to turn her down. Whether it was himself or the Lu Family right now, neither could survive without Shangyang Jiuli.
"Alright, I'll just give it a try," he said.
"Good. The place's Dust Sealing House, a teahouse along the northern street. Someone will lead you there a while later," Shangyang Jiuli quickly added.
"A while later?" Lu Sheng was surprised.
"Mm. The appointment is this afternoon, fixed to be at Dust Sealing House." Shangyang Jiuli's personality had not changed; she did not take no for an answer.
Lu Sheng felt helpless. This desire to leave the Shangyang Family and become independent was growing. But should he do so right now, many things would crumble and fall apart. Neither the Crimson Whale Sect in the Northern Lands nor the Lu Family had any security.
At the end of the day, it came down to the fact that his strength was insufficient.
After the meal, Shangyang Jiuli began ranting about her troubles to Lu Sheng.
Recently, she had been tasked by Shangyang Fei to deal with Huang Family's Huang Shuling. The latter was also Huang Family's leading genius. While she might not match up to Lin Beikai and Shangyang Fei herself, she was not to be trifled with.
In her several matches with Huang Shuling, she had lost more than won. On top of that, she was also tasked to search for the keeper of the Jade of Secrets. This kept her up to her neck in work.
"For two whole months, all of my subordinates added together have not seen even the shadow of the Jade of Secrets." Shangyang Jiuli was rather furious.
"Wait till you're married and secure assistance from Shangyang Ruo's side. Her grandpa has the entire Shangyang Family's intelligence network in his grasp and can more than supplement what I'm lacking in this area. Then everything will get much better. But for now..." Shangyang Jiuli continued on and on, bringing the topic back to this.
Lu Sheng accompanied her in chat. After the meal, he boarded a carriage towards Dust Sealing House along the northern street.
On the crowded northern street, a bronze shop of modest size stood between rows of antique shops. Three large words were written on its sign: Dust Sealing House.
The shopfront was empty, without any customers entering or exiting. A price list with all sorts of promotions written over it was erected diagonally at the entrance.
Lu Sheng sat in a corner of the teahouse. The table number was carved into the side of the table: B32. This was the table agreed upon, which happened to be in the innermost corner of the Dust Sealing House.
After Shangyang Jiuli had taken him here, she left in a hurry to settle some other matter, leaving him here alone to wait for the other party.
The Dust Sealing House was not crowded. The other party also seemed to have no intention of booking the whole place. It seemed like they wanted to hide in plain sight and meet like a blind date among mortals.
The water clock on the indoor false mountain struck.
The water clock was an instrument made of a bamboo tube which went up and down like a seesaw using water flowing at a constant rate.
The rate of water flow in the teahouse was such that the clock would strike once every hour.
Lu Sheng glanced at the light outside. Two hours had passed since the appointed time, but the other party had not come.
He remained impassive as he held up the tea cup slowly and sipped lightly.
"Sir, do do you still want a refill?" the girl in the teahouse asked in a whisper with beads of cold sweat forming on her forehead.
This customer had already drunk three large vats of tea. Each vat was a meter tall and two meters wide in diameter.
The boss at the back of the teahouse was praying to all his gods and ancestors that he would hurry up and leave. But there he sat like a stone for two whole hours.
Lu Sheng breathed out slowly and took another glance at the color of the sky. It was getting late. Any later and the sky would get dark.
Only then did he stand up.
"Nah, I'll settle the bill."
"It's a total of ten... ten coins!" Overjoyed, the girl stammered.
"Here." Lu Sheng took out ten coins from his waist pouch and passed it to her.
Because each pot of tea in Dust Sealing House was refillable (of course, it was restricted to one person), it would not cost much no matter how much one drank.
That was also why the boss at the back was close to crying.
"We welcome you visit us agai" Before she could finish, the girl was silenced by her boss's glare.
"Don't worry. I won't be coming back." Lu Sheng realized that he might have drunk much more than he was welcome to. He rubbed the girl's head and walked out of the Dust Sealing House with a smile.
Outside, the sun was setting, casting the streets in a deep red hue.
"The sunset today is very red..." Lu Sheng exclaimed.
He lifted his head imperceptibly, glanced at a corner discreetly, then turned around a left.
Clearly, he had been stood up.
Sky Heart House.
As another teahouse in White Bell City, the extremely high-class Sky Heart House sat right across Dust Sealing House. Regardless of price or standard of service or decoration, it far outstripped its competitor across the street.
Presently, Shangyang Ruo sat by the window on the fifth story of Sky Heart House, gazing at the setting sun quietly.
"In other words, that Lu Sheng sat waiting for two whole hours there and left only when he saw that it was getting dark?" she asked the servant lady casually.
"That's right. That Young Master Lu waited all the way till the sun was setting before he left. From start to end, no sign of impatience could be seen on his face," the servant lady whispered in reply.
Shangyang Ruo's face turned serious.
"Anyone would be impatient with waiting so long. The fact that he showed no emotion or frustration means that he's aware of his own limits. He knows that it's not that easy to be admitted to our Shangyang Xi's lineage." A trace of scorn flashed across her eyes.
"Did cousin and grandpa consult my opinion about the marriage they arranged?" Shangyang Ruo's face looked cold. "Where's Young Master Kunyun now?" At the mention of that name, she immediately turned mild and meek.
Young Master Kunyun, named Shangyang Kunyun, was an esteemed young master in a branch family. He had a gentle disposition and was very tolerant towards her. Although he had neither ambition nor talent, he was blessed to have an Iron Brush Judge of the Shangyang Family as his father.
Among the Judges, eight were of the order of the Iron Brush. One of them was his father. As Shangyang Family's highest military faction, these eight Iron Brush Judges combined together wielded authority that rivaled that of the family head's.
"Young Miss, about Young Master Lu..." the servant lady asked carefully.
"Whoever fixed the marriage, let her marry him herself!" Shangyang Ruo said impatiently. She could not understand why her grandfather would oppose her relationship with Shangyang Kunyun.
In terms of family background, Shangyang Kunyun's father was an Iron Brush Judge. That made him superior to this Prime Devil Sect first seat by far.
In terms of talent, Young Master Kunyun was unrivaled both in his looks and education. Did Lu Sheng know the Nine Cup Tune? Did he know rhetoric? Could he play the three-stringed lute?
He was just a Nobleman of a forgotten bloodline from a small remote corner. He knew nothing.
Apart from potential.
"Potential, potential... all they know about is potential!!" Frustration surged in Shangyang Ruo's heart. Whether it was grandpa or her cousin, they valued only potential.
Born with inhuman strength, possessing a Six-Vein Level cultivation, being young and extremely likely to step into the realm of Snake in the future... that was Lu Sheng's potential.
Which was also what her grandpa valued.
"Young Miss, Young Master Kunyun has brought fresh loquat again," another servant lady outside said aloud.
Shangyang Ruo's eyes glazed over. A wide smile broke out on her face.
"He still remembers..." She quickly rose to her feet and went out in greeting.