After finding out a little more about Crimson Whale Sects bases of operation as well as their organizational structure, Lu Sheng left the cemetery.
On the next day, Lu Sheng came out on a stroll early in the morning, intending to check out Crimson Whale Sects base.
He passed by a prosperous busy street, on which one of the largest stores in the city was holding a promotion--except that it wasnt called "promotion" here, but rather "gifting".
A large crowd of kids gathered around the store entrance. A wooden platform had been built there and a man was hawking on it, attracting many passers-by and onlookers.
Lu Sheng glanced at them and was about to leave without further ado.
However, as he passed by the wooden platform, he couldnt help but notice many among the crowd who were dressed in rags and looked like bags of bones.
The people of Mountain-Edge City have always been quite well-to-do. Ive never seen so many refugees walking along the streets before either. Where did these folks come from?
Ignoring the merchant who was blabbering on loudly on the wooden platform, Lu Sheng examined these refugee-like people closely.
Their faces were the picture of hardship, their eyes devoid of any glimmer of hope. Standing by the wooden platform, they merely wished that the store would give them something to stave off the hunger.
Lu Sheng walked on for a slight distance and heard another crowd gathering in the area to the right before him. The gathering crowd was engrossed in chat, discussing something animatedly.
Approaching, Lu Sheng pushed his way through the crowd for a look.
It was an emaciated couple, their clothes hardly enough to cover them. A little girl, only three or four years old, was in their arms. They were kneeling on the ground, with a piece of bark hanging from their necks. On the piece of bark was a simple picture sketched crookedly with charcoal. It was the picture of a string of coins.
"Please do some good my daughters only three years old this year. Shes obedient and pretty. Please, may some kind soul have some pity on us and give us a mouthful of food" the woman kneeling on the ground cried.
The girl stood up beside her with a blank face, as if she had no idea what was going on around her.
Lu Sheng frowned and squeezed his way out of the crowd. Walking yet further, he again saw some who were selling their daughter or son--all very young children.
Where did all these refugees in the city come from? Lu Sheng mumbled to himself.
As he strolled, he continued to come across at least five families who were selling their children. This weighed heavily on his heart and caused even greater puzzlement in his mind.
After all, he had never seen such tragic sights before he had landed up in this world. What sorry straits must a family have landed in to resort to having to sell their son or daughter?
After some time, Lu Sheng returned to the building where his apartment was in. Even on the first floor outside the winery, a young lady was kneeling on the ground, selling herself. Speaking in a foreign accent, she was finding it difficult to make herself understood.
Lu Sheng glanced at her, then saw that the waiter from the winery was also watching the scene, and so approached him and enquired, "Whyre there so many refugees in the city lately? Has some disaster happened out there?"
Catching sight of Lu Sheng, whom he knew was the winerys patron living upstairs, the waiter quickly bowed.
"In response to Young Masters question, hasnt there been a great drought in Yun Province? Countless people have nothing to eat and are forced to migrate. The number of people who starved to death en route already amounts up to ten percent of Mountain-Edge City's population. Its been really tragic" the waiter shook his head and sighed. "I heard that we initially did not let these refugees come in. But after that, seeing how tragic and pitiful they are, the old master in the yamen softened and gave the order to admit them. Actually, the number of refugees in our city isnt considered very big. Towards the Central Plains, many cities are suffering from hyperinflation due to overcrowding by refugees."
"Oh, Yun Province" Lu Sheng knew about that place. It was the umbrella name for the whole region west of the Central Plains. But he had not expected that the drought there was so severe. For these ordinary folks to travel all the way here from such a faraway place, many of them must have died along the way.
"Yea rumor has it" the waiter looked left and right, then continued in a hushed voice, "Rumor has it that demons and devils had wreaked havoc in Yun Province. Look at the weather. Since when has there ever been ten days of hail, followed by several months of severe drought?"
"Ten days of hail? Several months of severe drought?" Lu Sheng was puzzled.
"I heard that the hail was the size of eggs! After that was eight or nine months of great drought. Not a single drop of rain fell tsk, tsk its really tragic. According to rumors, some people even turned into cannibals," the waiter was truly a talkative one; he couldnt help saying everything he knew.
"Hail the size of eggs eight or nine months of great drought" Lu Sheng was alarmed. In the world that he knew, even a mere continuous three-month period without rain was considered a drought. Yet the drought in Yun province persisted for eight to nine months! It was little wonder that the entire Yun Province had collapsed. All crops had probably died out, and even drinking water must have been scarce.
"According to the hearsay, every time it was about to rain, even when dark clouds had gathered in the sky, something strange would happen immediately like a whirlpool in the air or thunder and then the dark clouds which had only just appeared would vanish in a poof," the waiter continued softly.
After hearing the news, Lu Sheng went back up to his apartment, still full of astonishment.
Ten days of hail followed close after by drought. Such illogical weather was completely out of conformity with the laws of nature.
Having been in this world for such a long time, Lu Sheng had already understood that this place wasnt too different from ancient China. Apart from some differences in culture, there werent many differences in the laws of nature.
Except for supernatural phenomena related to demons, devils, ghosts and monsters.
Such unnatural weather that defies the laws of nature must have been induced by some power, Lu Sheng guessed. His instinct told him that the drought was most probably related to the supernatural.
Back in his apartment, Little Qiao was doing some sewing. Seeing Lu Sheng, she quickly rose.
"Young Master, youre back? Would you like to take a bath? Little Qiao will go heat up the water."
"No need. How much money do we have left?" Lu Sheng asked casually.
"About twenty one taels," Little Qiao quickly replied, answering with a pathetic figure.
Lu Sheng was speechless. He even thought of borrowing from Song Zhenguo or Chen Jiaorong. Or perhaps selling the white jade chimera from Chen Jiaorong--that was a priceless treasure and would fetch a handsome sum. And there was that purple jade hairpin too. The Yin Qi on it had been absorbed by him, but it was made of purple jade, which also cost a hefty price.
But these are merely stop-gap measures. Best to follow my earlier idea. Perhaps I can even establish some foundations here in Mountain-Edge City for my Lu Family," Lu Sheng plotted in his mind as he dug in into the dishes served by Little Qiao.
The dishes had all been bought from the restaurant beside them and were pretty tasty. Little Qiao stood beside Lu Sheng, pouring wine for him and chatting with him occasionally.
"How long before the results will be released?" Lu Sheng asked.
"Approximately a month later. By that time, the Institution should release a notice. Qiaoer will watch out for it," Little Qiao quickly replied.
"As long as you dont let it slip your mind. During this period, I may have to attend to some matters. Be careful when youre alone at home. With the influx of these refugees, therere bound to be some with shady motives among them."
"Qiaoer understands," Little Qiao replied obediently.
After the meal, Lu Sheng went out again. He had already checked out the locations of Crimson Whale Sects bases in the morning.
Noon passed. All that was left was the issue of how he would get into the sect.
Lu Sheng hailed and boarded a horse carriage leisurely, then took his time to arrive at a casino.
Golden Seal Casino.
A tacky name, but apt nonetheless. The entire entrance to the casino looked like a giant golden seal--square-shaped and very eye-catching.
Lu Sheng alighted, took out a pretentious gold-threaded folding fan and opened it with a flourish. Slowly, he walked into the casino among the crowd.
Once he entered the casino, he was immediately assaulted by the chaotic din and revelry of gamblers. Large and small, gambling tables filled the hall, each of them surrounded by gangs of gamblers. Caught in a frenzy, the gamblers yelled as if their winnings depended on it.
Being indifferent about gambling, Lu Shengs gaze merely swept across them, then landed on a ruddy-faced middle-aged man standing in the deepest end of the casino.
This man stood by the furthest table from the entrance, watching the lively din in the casino expressionlessly. He was dressed no differently from the bouncers all around the casino.
But Lu Sheng knew that this was in fact the ringleader of Golden Seal Casino who oversaw its premises. If one wanted to join the Crimson Whale Sect, he was the go-to guy.
He slowly approached the ruddy-faced Zhao Jie, who very quickly noticed his approach and looked at him with eyes of surprise.
"Brother, why have you come to this corner instead of joining in the fun?" Zhao Jie asked casually. Though he was leaning on a table, no game was being played here and it was presently used merely as an ordinary table.
"Im a student of the Eastern Mountain Institution and would like to enlist in Crimson Whale Sect. Can you make a referral?" Lu Sheng stated his purpose straightforwardly, with a smile.
"A student of the Eastern Mountain Institution?" Zhao Jie was taken aback.
He had been in the sect for so many years, yet it was the first time he encountered a student of the Institution who desired to join Crimson Whale Sect.
Despite the fact that Crimson Whale Sect was the number one sect, students of the Institution had always thought themselves holier-than-thou. Except for those among the upper echelons who joined through special connections, or those who had been coerced into joining due to some special circumstances, there wasnt really any scholar in the sect who had joined voluntarily.
After all, these scholars always set their hearts on becoming court officials. They werent the sort who would let themselves be tied down by a sect.
After coming out from his daze, Zhao Jie sized Lu Sheng up from top to toe.
"Mister, you claim to be a student of the Institution. Do you have any proof?"
Lu Sheng smiled as he took out his Institution-issued nameplate. On it was his last name and the name and the logo of his Institution.
It was a giant word "East". Underneath it was the small word "Lu". The nameplate was made of yellow bronze and was rather weighty. There were even intricate floral patterns carved onto it, making it very difficult to counterfeit.
Upon seeing the nameplate, Zhao Jie was convinced. No Tom, Dick or Harry could lay his hands on a nameplate like this; even trying to forge one was extremely difficult. None of the craftsmen in the city took on private jobs. Moreover, it was a severe crime, punishable by execution, for craftsmen to manufacture it illegally.
"Why do you want to join us?" Zhao Jie asked. Those who wanted to enlist in the sect were mostly the underdogs of the society, merchants or craftsmen with certain skills. People who were clearly Institution students from well-off families, like the one standing before him, really had no need to join sects.
"Ive heard that Crimson Whale Sect is the number one sect in all of the northern lands, that experts fill its ranks, and that it boasts of the most powerful martial arts skills. I want to practice the best skills, and so hope to join," Lu Sheng explained his motives without concealing. He didnt bother to beat around the bush.
"Oh, martial arts skills" Zhao Jie finally understood. Crimson Whale Sects skills were indeed the strongest in all of the northern lands. None of the rest, whether they were societies or clans, could compare with it.
"Alright, then. Please come with me to register your name, age and expertise," without further ado, he pointed at a small door on the right for Lu Sheng. "But let me remind you first--all disciples of our sect who wish to learn martial arts must obtain them from the Martial Proclamation Library. And to gain admittance to the Martial Proclamation Library, we must assess the level of your strength and your contribution to the sect."