Under the tower, hundreds of round lanterns with the word "Dragon" written on them were shining brilliantly, forming hundreds of lights as they surrounded a long, scarlet dragon.
The long dragon swerved left and right without warning, attempting to break out of the siege of lanterns. Dragon and lights battled on, creating an unusually splendid, lively scene.
Balls of golden, red and yellow fireworks shot up into the sky endlessly. The tri-colored fireworks display bathed the entire place in a sea of golden splendor.
Enjoying themselves, everybody returned to the table to feast after watching the dragon dance for a while. All who were seated came from merchant families, without a single aristocrat among them. Now that they were caught in the joy of the moment, their real lack of refinement was exposed and all that literary air from earlier vanished in an instant. Each one of them gave themselves in to rowdy exclamations and boisterous laughter as they slapped the tabletop.
"Is any Tom, Dick or Harry just let onto the tenth floor now?"
Abruptly, an impatient voice rang out from a table on the side.
Everybodys laughter froze as they swiftly turn their heads.
On an adjacent table, three refined and learned-looking young scholars were looking derisively towards them.
The one who had spoken was a fair-skinned scholar with a long, thin face.
"To think that such uncouth men would be allowed into such a refined place. Looks like this Yang-Seeking Tower is really on the decline," the scholar mocked.
Unexpectedly, the usually unrelenting Song Zhenguo actually went dumb after recognizing the speaker. He looked down and drank his wine silently without uttering a single word.
The rest of the group, too, bowed their heads without a sound. As their chatter ceased, the noise level on the floor rapidly dropped. Even Chen Yunxi bit her lower lip without a word. Among their group, she had the best family background, yet even she did not dare to rebut the three. Clearly, they were big shots.
"Isnt this Miss Chen Yunxi? Shes truly a merchants daughter inside-out. Even the company she hangs out with all day are these ill-mannered ruffians.
Previously, your elder brother put in plenty of good words for you with me, smiling as he offered to give you to me as concubine. I was actually rather tempted at that time. But now, it seems like I made the right choice in rejecting his offer," said another Young Master, toying with a string of Buddha beads and shaking his head.
Upon hearing these words, Cheng Yunxi glanced at Lu Sheng immediately as if shocked by an electric current. Then she quickly lowered her head, her face and neck turning beet red. Her body was even trembling.
Yet, none of the eight or nine people at the table even dared to speak a word back at them.
Lu Sheng shook his head inwardly. He looked again at Song Zhenguo. His fists were clenched tight and veins had popped up on his neck. Clearly, he was already in an extreme state of anger.
"A bunch of cowards," that thin-faced scholar jeered.
"Has your mother never taught you manners? Or do you need this Young Master to teach you a lesson and show you what good upbringing looks like?"
Without warning, a calm voice arose from Chen Yunxis side.
Originally, the thin-faced scholar had intended not to waste anymore of his time on such men and was about to lift up his wine cup to continue drinking. Little did he expect to hear such words all of a sudden. Immediately, he glared fiercely towards Chen Yunxi.
Looks of shock also appeared on the faces of the other two at the table, who also looked in Chen Yunxis direction.
Song Zhenguo reached out and clutched Lu Shengs arm instantly and anxiously signaled him. He himself slowly rose and clasped his hands together at the three and was about to apologize.
Lu Sheng smiled and rose, "Causing a din and disturbing others was our fault. But maliciously attacking a lady who has only just come of age with your words the three of you are scums."
"Coming of age" meant reaching the age for marriage. Here, the marriageable age for ladies was sixteen years old. Chen Yunxi had just turned sixteen; she was three years younger than Lu Sheng.
"Youve got guts!" The thin-faced scholar rose instantly and glared at Lu Sheng coldly. "To think that right here, in Mountain-Edge City, theres actually"
"Thats enough, Su De," the only one among the three of them who had not spoken yet opened his mouth at that moment.
At his voice, the other two who were originally furious suppressed their anger and immediately put on a face of gloating. Obviously, the one who had just spoken had come from an even more powerful background.
"Its just a small matter, lets leave it as that. Its time, weve got to go," that Young Master had handsome features and carried an air of composure about him. When he spoke, he emanated a dignified aura, as if the quarrel happening around him was a squabble between kids.
"Fine but only since Young Master Rong has spoken! Hmph!" The thin-faced scholar exclaimed and stared at Lu Sheng viciously.
Lu Sheng had already been prepared to teach the three of them a lesson with his fist. He had also noticed several lines of sight zeroing in on him from somewhere behind the three of them, but they were all merely of the Strength Proficiency level. To Lu Sheng, dealing with them was just a matter of a few more moves.
There were differences even among Strength Proficiency experts. Someone at the pinnacle of the Strength Proficiency level, like Uncle Zhao back at home, could take on two ordinary Strength Proficiency experts on his own. This was akin to how the same martial art practiced by different people would result in different levels of mastery.
Moreover, Lu Sheng was now already an inner force expert. His Black Fury Qi cultivation was effective even against Demonic Ghosts. When used against human beings, its might would probably be even more terrifying.
Although he had never tried it, fighting three or five Strength Proficiency experts wasnt considered much in his eyes. Even the higher-leveled Intent Proficiency expert was at most equivalent to three Strength Proficiency experts--insufficient to pose a threat to him.
The three of them slowly departed. The conflict was dissolved just like that. Song Zhenguo released his breath in relief.
The moment the three of them left, Chen Yunxi could bear to stay no longer and made her leave with teary eyes. Lu Sheng wanted to see her off but was politely turned down by her before she left in a hurry.
The rest of them had lost their interest in admiring the dragon dance. Song Zhenguo sent his female companion away then pulled Lu Sheng and Wang Ziquan along towards the lakeside.
Cypress Pine Lake was calm and serene at night. Multi-story pleasure boats decked with red lanterns were gliding across the surface of the lake.
Song Zhenguo led the two of them aboard one of the larger pleasure boats with practiced familiarity. The boat mistress, charming despite her age, welcomed them.
"Young Master Song, long time no see. Juners always been going on and on about you beside my ears."
In his mind, Lu Sheng remarked that the boat mistress speech did not sound sordid in the slightest.
"Is Juner free now?" Song Zhenguo smiled as he led them in.
"Naturally. Shes just waiting for Young Master Song to visit," the boat mistress laughed. "As for the other two Young Masters, if theres any lady to your liking, you can let this servant know as well."
The three of them were led into an exclusive chamber, which was very artfully decorated.
After that, a row of over ten ladies dressed in thin gauze entered. Each one of them had an attractive and svelte figure as well as an air of elegance comparable to that found on a Young Miss from a wealthy family, and each looked attractive in her own way.
"Many blessings to three Young Masters," the ladies curtsied in unison.
"Brothers, please pick one each. Tonights on me," Song Zhenguo placed his arm around another lady who came in later and said casually.
Wang Ziquans eyes almost popped out of their sockets. His face was flushed with excitement as he deliberated over which lady to pick.
Lu Shengs face, however, was composed. He randomly picked a quiet-looking one to sit beside himself.
Having picked the ladies, some nourishing floral tea was served to get them in the mood. In addition, some sexily dressed ladies also entered to play music and dance.
"What happened today its really" Song Zhenguos face turned red at the mention of the incident today in Yang-Seeking Tower. It was like a knot on his heart which could not be straightened out.
"Brother Song, with such beautiful scenery and wonderful companions by our side, why mention this depressing matter? Come, lets drink!" Wang Ziquan could no longer keep his hands to himself. His hands roved all over the lady by his side and he clearly couldnt wait even a second longer.
The three ladies giggled incessantly in an attempt to console Song Zhenguo, and even Lu Sheng chipped in with a few words. Only then did Song Zhenguos mood turn for the better.
"If my eyes didnt play any tricks on me today, one of the three who mocked us today is the son of Mountain-Edge Citys Deputy Army Superintendent, Wang Shunyong. Theres nothing much to be said about the others, but this Wang Shunyong is different"
"Not to mention that Young Master Rong he must have an even more powerful background," Wang Ziquan added.
Lu Sheng shook his head wordlessly. After being exposed to a more complicated world, a 'young master' or the like did not mean anything to him anymore.
"Whyre we being such wet blankets? Drink on! Drink till you drop!" Wang Ziquan shouted.
Song Zhenguo, too, shook off all his troubles and began gulping down his wine.
To be honest, Lu Sheng didnt really like such occasions. But since Song Zhenguo was feeling down, he accompanied him and drank till late in the night.
The pleasure boat sold only wine and the arts, not sexual pleasures. By the time the three of them had finished drinking and left, it was already at the height of the Chou hour--that is, somewhere between two and three a.m. in the morning.
After parting ways with the two, Lu Sheng remarked to himself about the lowly status of merchants in this world. Even a Young Master and a Miss of wealthy family like Song Zhenguo and Chen Yunxi dared not speak a word against the descendants of officials.
Though he had drunk his fill of wine, his mind remained sober and alert, without even the faintest trace of sleepiness. He left Cypress Pine Lake and headed towards his place. On the way, he attempted to hail a carriage several times, but there never was an empty one available.
It was too late. Not many carriage drivers remained on the road; most of them had already retired. Hence, he was left with no choice but to hurry home on foot.
The streets in the city were cold and deserted past midnight. Only a few drunkards remained on it, spouting nonsense to themselves.
The houses on both sides were shrouded in pitch darkness, with the occasional exception of big families who hung lanterns before their doors. They swayed in the wind and emitted faint glow of red light.
The wind blew on, making it rather chilly.
Lu Sheng sped up. When he was halfway enroute, he suddenly discovered that his waist pouch had gone missing god-knows-when.
He touched himself all over but could not find the waist pouch anywhere on him.
'Its got to be on the boat,' Lu Sheng recalled that the waist pouch contained the note from Duanmu Wan as well as the key to his room's door. He couldnt afford to lose it. So, he turned and headed back towards the pleasure boat.
Travelling briskly, Lu Sheng went back along the way he had come until he reached Cypress Pine Lake. By this time, most of the pleasure boats by the lakeside had ended their business and had their colored lanterns taken down. The lakeside felt very deserted.
He retraced his steps until he quickly reached the pleasure boat from which he had alighted.
The pleasure boat had docked; the boat was empty, with no sign or sight of anyone. The yellow lanterns on the deck swayed in the wind.
They must have ended business. The ladies must have gone back to rest and it should be cleaning time now, Lu Shen thought to himself as he boarded the pleasure boat from the dock.
"Is anybody there?" Lu Sheng called out twice, then walked further into the boat along the deck.
The pleasure boat was thoroughly empty. The surface of the deck was unusually clean, with glimmer reflecting off the aged wooden planks, which were painted in green.
Lu Sheng entered the boat via its entrance and found himself in a rather cramped corridor, which led into a hall. Both sides of the hall were occupied with row after row of chambers that comprised the three-storied pleasure boat.
A small lantern was hung outside the door of each chamber, emitting a faint red glow which made the boat look eerily cold and deserted late in the night.
"Anybody there?" Lu Sheng surveyed the hall, yet found not a single person in the entire boat.
'I dont remember seeing so many red lanterns when I just got here' his eyes narrowed to a slit as caution rose in his heart.
The boat had three stories, and each had five rooms--making it a total of fifteen rooms. Each one of them had a red lantern hung outside its door. Their faint red glow dyed the interior of the entire boat a scarlet red, plunging it into a sea of silent loneliness.