The large boat had docked at the same place as before. The two of them followed behind a few guests who were boarding the ship and quickly got on the deck.
"Young Master Song, its been a few days since we last met and your face looks much more radiant than before," the boat mistress greeted them, her face all smiles. "Juner is still dolling up. Why dont you take a seat first and listen to some tunes to relieve the boredom while waiting? Weve got a few new singers here whore very good at what they do."
Song Zhenguos face remained stern and did not return her smile.
"I want to ask about something. Two days ago I brought a friend here--a young master named Wang Ziquan. I heard that he came to this pleasure boat again afterwards. Please ask the lady who accompanied him two nights ago to come out. I have some questions for her," he dropped a few pieces of silver into the boat mistress hand.
This casual gift was basically equivalent to a few thousand dollars. If his family wasnt wealthy, there would be no way he would have dared to spend like that.
"Oh you mean Dieer. Mm, Ill call her out right away. Young Master may rest and wait in the chamber on the side," seeing the stern looks on Song Zhenguo and Lu Shengs face, the boat mistress dared not delay. Customers who were as open-handed as Song Zhenguo were few and far between. Even the descendants of officials were not as generous as Song Zhenguo despite their more powerful backgrounds. 
The duo including Lu Sheng were led to a chamber to rest and wait. Not long after, the girl called Dieer was summoned into the chamber.
Dieer looked extremely mild and meek, drawing the sympathy of those who looked at her. She was dressed in a long green dress and was clutching a long flute in her hand, as if she was about to perform in front of customers. Presently, she looked quite befuddled about being summoned so abruptly.
"Young Master Song, may I know what questions you have for Dieer?" She asked meekly.
"Let me ask you this: do you know where that Young Master Wang Ziquan, whom you accompanied two nights ago, is?"
Dieers face drew a blank.
"Young Master Wang Ziquan? Oh I remember now. Didnt he leave with you, Young Master Song? At that time, Dieer was exhausted, so after Young Master left, I left the boat and went home to rest."
"Went home to rest?" Song Zhenguos brow rose.
"Yes, thats right. Back then, Dieer had just accompanied three customers consecutively. I was so very exhausted. Once it ended, I told the boat mistress and was one of the first few who got off the boat," Dieer replied meekly. "Whats wrong? Did did something happen to Young Master Ziquan?" She grew anxious.
Lu Sheng examined her closely with his hawkish eyes, but saw no indication that Dieer was lying.
"Let me ask you, did your boat close for business right after we left?"
Unsettled by Lu Shengs stare, Dieer hurriedly nodded her head. "Yes, yes! Once you three Young Masters left, the boat mistress closed the boat for business."
"Then let me ask you again! After closing for business, will red lanterns usually be hung on this boat?" Lu Sheng asked again.
"Red lanterns?" Dieer was bewildered. "What red lanterns? Each day after closing for business, our boat always docks in the nearby harbor for inspection and maintenance. No lights are allowed on the boat during the inspection and maintenance except for those lit by the maintenance personnel. Everything was as per usual yesterday."
"Docks in the nearby harbor? Not here?" Lu Sheng was stunned.
"Of course not. We only dock here temporarily while doing business. Waves here can get rather huge wouldnt it be easy to be carried away by the wind if we docked here?" Dieer looked at Lu Sheng with a strange expression.
Worry crept into Lu Shengs heart. It seems like Wang Ziquan, like him, had boarded the pleasure boat decked with red lanterns.
"Brother Lu" Song Zhenguo felt something was amiss as he listened on. He had no idea what Lu Sheng was trying to drive at with his questions. In his eyes, Lu Sheng had boarded the boat with red lanterns by mistake. Still, he listened on patiently.
"Dont tell me that theres no boat here at night thats decked with red lanterns? An empty pleasure boat? Its the exact same model as this boat," Lu Sheng asked again, unwilling to give up.
"Young Master, may I know where you heard about this big boat with red lanterns? Do you know under what kind of circumstances only do we put up red lanterns here?
Only when a lady on the boat has passed away do we hang three red lanterns outside her room door and inside her room.
One at the door--to guide her home. Two inside her room--to pay respects to her and to give her rest."
Upon hearing, Lu Sheng stood rooted to the ground, dumbfounded.
He recalled the eccentric pleasure boat decked with red lanterns all over. Red lanterns hung outside every single room and chamber!
And the arrangement in which they were hung was exactly as Dieer described--one outside the door and two inside the room!!!
"Ahhh this is so scary! Young Master, you mustve heard some horror story from somewhere and come to scare Dieer, havent you?" Dieer got the jitters and goosebumps surfaced all over her body.
"Yue Sheng were you having a nightmare?" Song Zhenguo too looked worriedly at Lu Sheng. Lu Shengs other name was Yue Sheng, which was essentially the word "Sheng" taken apart.
Lu Sheng had rarely used this other name in Nine Links City. There, everyone had addressed him as Young Master Sheng or Brother Sheng. But within the academic circle, calling someone by his other name was both more familiar and formal at the same time. 
"Its nothing I just" Lu Sheng hesitated, but kept the story of how he had been almost trapped in the red boat to himself. Even if he had said it, Song Zhenguo might not have believed his words. And even if he did believe him, it made no actual difference anyway.
"But since Ziquan did not come to this pleasure boat, where else could he have gone?" Song Zhenguo was worried. "The Annual Examinations are almost upon us. If we break the Institutions rules and have our names forfeited, our future would be ruined in our own hands!"
"If theres nothing else from both Young Masters, please excuse Dieer to perform the flute for the customers," Dieer said softly.
"Theres nothing else. Thank you, Dieer. Here, this is for you," Song Zhenguo passed her a few pieces of silver.
Dieers face lit up immediately. This would go to her individual earnings apart from what she got on the pleasure boat. She carefully kept the silver pieces in her waist pouch and spun around, heading towards the door. Halfway there, a thought suddenly came to her mind and she turned around, saying, "Oh yes, Young Master. Dieer did once hear a ghost story that was spread among the ladies on the boat.
It was about a red boat on this Cypress Pine Lake in the past. Its name was Scarlet Decks. A big fire killed everyone; none of the ladies on the boat managed to escape. After that, the legend of the Scarlet Decks began spreading on Cypress Pine Lake rumor has it that the boat was decked with red lanterns. No one who boarded that red boat had ever gotten off it."
Lu Shengs spirits lifted and he quickly halted Dieer.
"Please stay, Miss. Can you tell us more about the story of this pleasure boat called Scarlet Decks?"
"Err Dieer has only just entered this profession recently and doesnt know much. But isnt Young Master Song very intimate with Miss Juner? Do you know that Sis Juner misses Young Master Song every single day? Shes been working on this boat for quite a long time. She should know," Dieer replied.
"Got it," Lu Sheng nodded. "Carry on."
Dieer exited. Neither Lu Sheng nor Song Zhenguo said a word. Both remained silent, contemplating different issues.
Not long after, Juner strolled in, dressed in a low-cut, short, plain white dress, her eyes lighting up upon sighting Song Zhenguo.
"Young Master Song!" Her eyes shone with rich tenderness, unbeknownst to herself.
"Juner!" Song Zhenguo strode forward and put his arm around Juner gently. "Its been a few days, howve you been? Ive been paying your boss enough money. Apart from me, no one else can request for you."
Juner nodded lightly, bliss blossoming on her face. "Juner knows that Young Masters very good to Juner"
"Ive been waiting waiting for the day when Juner will agree to let me redeem you," Song Zhenguo said gently. "Alright, weve come here today to ask about that Young Master Wang Ziquan who came with us the night before. Does Juner know if Young Master Wang ever came back to this boat after we left that night?"
"Young Master Wang Ziquan?" Juner searched her memory. "It was already very late that night. Didnt that Young Master Wang get off the boat with both of you? Why would he return?"
"Youre sure he never returned?" Lu Sheng followed up with a question.
Juner nodded. "Im sure. Because, I took even longer than usual that night and ended up being the last to get off the boat. Now to think of it, it was probably about a joss sticks duration after you left."
"Is that so thats strange" Lu Sheng fell in thought.
Song Zhenguo asked a couple more questions, which Juner answered one by one. Her words corroborated what Dieer had supplied. Since neither of them could discover any leads, they left the boat helplessly.
"Looks like our last resort now is to report the case to the authorities," Song Zhenguo sighed.
Lu Sheng shook his head, "Im worried that even that wouldnt be of any use"
Song Zhenguo looked at Lu Sheng, puzzled.
"Brother Song, I think you should go home. Lets call it a day its getting late," Lu Sheng reminded, "Besides, weve still got the preliminary examination tomorrow."
"Alright, then. Ill head back first. Yue Sheng, if you get any leads, you must inform me," Song Zhenguo sighed again, then parted ways with Lu Sheng.
After watching Song Zhenguo board a horse carriage and disappear into the distance, Lu Sheng searched his memory, examining the reactions of Dieer and Juner when he spoke to them. However, he discovered no loopholes.
"Looks like they werent lying. But, if that red boat wasnt the one we were on, why would my money pouch be on it?" Lu Sheng doubted.
He had the faint premonition that he had just gotten himself embroiled in a new mess.
Song Zhenguo sat in the horse carriage, sighing over and over.
He was a sentimental person. Wang Ziquan was someone who had gone missing after going out with him and no news about him could be heard yet. No matter what, he had to give the Wang Family an explanation.
Moreover, Ziquan was his good buddy, too. How could an adult like him disappear just like that by Cypress Pine Lake?
Could it be he suddenly thought of a possibility. Could he have fallen into the lake!? At this thought, he shivered from top to toe.
No! If hes alive, I need to find him. If hes dead, I need to see his corpse! Ziquan was there because of me. If something really happened to him, then I, Song Zhenguo, am responsible for him! Song Zhenguo steeled his heart and set his mind on his decision. If Ziquan really met with some mishap, Ill go to the authorities!
He had made his mind up.
But then, what about Juner? he thought of his beloved Juner. His monthly expenditure on her alone amounted to more than a thousand silver notes, just so that he could reserve Juner for himself and keep other customers away from her. He had already had more than ten quarrels with his aged father at home because of that.
At the thought of this, a headache came upon Song Zhenguo.
He quickly arrived home. After paying for the carriage after alighting, he walked into the courtyard and headed straight for his room. He did not want to see anyone in his family for even a second.
A few servant-maids saw him and were about to greet him. But in the blink of an eye, he was already gone.
 TL/N: The word Die in Dieer here does not have the same pronunciation as the English verb die. Rather, the Hanyu Pinyin die is pronounced somewhat like di-eh. ED/N: You can think of it like the phrase "the end", but without the sounds "n" and "d"--as if someone was about to say "the end" but got cut off before they were able to say the last "nd" part. That's pretty much how her name is pronounced.
 TL/N: The Chinese character Sheng () in Lu Shengs name can be taken apart to form two words Yue Sheng () which became his other name. It was common for people in ancient China to have two names.