Uncle Zhao led a few soldiers ahead and entered the small village cautiously via the main path, his hand on the saber hilt.
The village was a scene of stillness. A dozen dilapidated mud-wall houses sat here and there, without any apparent order or planning. In the middle of the village was an intersection of two rudimentary paths.
The sounds made by Uncle Zhao and his band of men were extremely jarring in the deathly silent village.
"Is anybody here?" Uncle Zhao walked to the front of the village and shouted.
His shout echoed inside the village, but there was no activity to be heard or seen in response.
"Is there anyone?" he asked again.
The village remained silent.
Behind him, the soldiers frowned. Dispersing at Uncle Zhaos hand signal, they tiptoed into the village.
Slowly, they checked every single house, one by one.
A soldier accidentally knocked into the handle of a flour grinder. The wooden handle snapped immediately and landed on the ground.
A dozen lines of sight zoomed in in his direction. Uncle Zhao strode over to the flour grinder and scrutinized it.
He touched the spot where the handle had broken off. When he lifted his finger, it was covered in a layer of yellowish-brown wood dust.
"This is an old village. Which of you have been here before? Its near the main path so it should be visible to any travelers along it."
The band of soldiers looked at one another and shook their heads.
"Ive heard my old Dad mention that he used to travel to Mountain-Edge City when he was young and had once spent the night in a village along the way. No idea whether this is the place" a muscular soldier said in a boorish voice.
"Your old Dad is sixty now. When he was young wouldnt that be decades ago?" Another soldier replied.
"Thirty years ago, perhaps. Its so long ago that I might as well not have said it," the thickly-set soldier replied with a chuckle.
"This village seems deserted," Uncle Zhao stood up and surveyed from left to right. "Go make another round to check again. If nothing is out of the ordinary, we could spend the night here."
Due to all sorts of mishaps in the recent years, there have been many cases of entire villages migrating or fleeing. Consequently, an empty village was nothing strange.
Often, an epidemic was sufficient to cause a whole village to uproot and migrate, leaving behind a ghost town-like village.
They scattered themselves all over to check. A total of eighteen mud houses sat in the village; all swept by them. Half of them had broken down; there were either gaping holes in the roofs or collapsed walls in the houses.
Uncle Zhao and his men tidied up the remaining mud houses, then dispatched a messenger to inform Lu Quanan, who had been waiting on the main path.
Then, Lu Quanan brought everyone else and drove the ox carts into the village slowly.
"Therere a few larger mud houses. Lets allocate them accordingly and make do for the night. Well continue on the way tomorrow. Arrange sentries for the night," Lu Quanan commanded everyone to set up camp for the night.
Just the mud houses alone were naturally insufficient for all of them to lodge in. Their priority were the women and children. The Northern Lands were not nearly as comfortable as other places; the temperature drops drastically at night, sometimes to freezing point. It was very easy to catch a cold.
"Theres a well in the middle of the village. We can fetch water from it. The forest is right beside us. Bring some men to pick some dried twigs. And look around to see if there is any game or mushrooms and the like. But dont go far--watch your safety."
Lu Quanan had traveled to a lot of places when he was younger and so was experienced. Very soon, he had everything set in order.
"Dispatch a messenger to Mountain-Edge City. Say that our progress will be delayed by a few days because a wheel had broken down," Lu Quanan instructed a soldier.
"Got it, Old Master," these soldiers were city guards arranged by Lu Anping as escorts, who were here at their superiors command. Moreover, the Lu Family has been treating them well along the way. Just by escorting them along this journey, each of them would earn five taels of silver, which was equivalent to two months salary. Naturally, they had no complaints.
The soldier flipped himself onto a horse, brought along some rations and rushed towards Mountain-Edge City.
By then, a campfire was lit in the village. A large pot of soup was being prepared.
Lu Chenxin alighted from his horse carriage to stretch. Originally, he was supposed to seek further studies with Lu Yiyi. Given his lackadaisical nature, however, there was no way he could put up with the meager lifestyle in an institution. With many excuses and fake illnesses, he missed the departure date, leaving Lu Yiyi to head to Xichuan Town alone.
Heheh, Mountain-Edge City is much more exciting. What fun is there in Xichuan Town? Brother Sheng must be having the time of his life there. I heard that therere plenty of pleasure boats Im in for a good time once we get there, Lu Chenxin chuckled in anticipation as he looked around.
He was put in the same carriage as Zhang Xiuxius family, relatives of Lu Quanans first wife. Lu Tianyang was also in the carriage, making for a cramped ride.
But Zhang Xiuxiu was born with a pretty face and her body soft to the touch. So, he had been enjoying the ride.
Zhang Xiuxiu was a distant relative descended from Lu Shengs maternal grandfather. She was, in fact, not related to Lu Chenxin by blood.
Since her father was not doing well, he had thrown in his lot with the well-endowed Lu Family.
Furthermore, Zhang Xiuxiu was born out of wedlock; rumor has it that her father had hooked up with a lady in some brothel. Anyway, only her dad raised her up since the time she was taken into the family.
Perhaps as a result, she grew up living loosely. Owing to her good looks, she had some unclear connections to Lu Tianyang of the Lu Family, and even Sun Bajun.
Now that these people were out of the picture, Lu Chenxin finally had his turn to taste this forbidden fruit. Naturally, he was in an extremely good mood.
Lu Tianyang also alighted from another carriage by the side.
The two of them made eye contact, and drew near to each other.
"How was it? How did Xiuer taste?"
"Not bad, not bad she takes the initiative much more than Yuelan. Shes got kick," Lu Chenxin whispered in a chuckle.
"Same house tonight?" Lu Tianyang was born of Lu Quanans fourth concubine and had also earned himself the repute of a prodigal in Lu Manor. Originally, he, Lu Chenxin and Sun Bajun were together known as the Three Bachelors of the Lu Family. Its a pity that Sun Bajun went missing after that.
"Pity that Bajun"
At the thought, Lu Chenxin grew heavy-hearted. "Mountain-Edge City is so prosperous and lively. If Brother Bajun was around, he wouldve been delighted. Then we the Three Bachelors of the Lu Family would go drinking and cruise Cypress Pine Lake together. Thatd have been fun."
"Lets not talk about this. Wheres Jiao Yan? Have you seen her?" Lu Tianyang had recently been smitten by a servant girl in the family.
"Shes helping to tidy up the place. At Old Dads carriage. You dare to go?" Lu Chenxin pointed.
Lu Tianyang stuck his tongue out without daring to reply.
Crystal Watergate, Mountain-Edge City.
Swathes of grayish white flat-roof houses were packed tightly together like scales on a fish. In the middle, Cypress Pine Lakepresently dyed a pinkish huedivided them into two districts.
Lu Sheng and Chen Yunxi stood on the arched stone bridge above the watergate, admiring the willows by the lake, swaying in the wind. Neither of them spoke for a while.
Seeing no response from the long-legged beauty before him, Lu Sheng smiled and broke the silence, "Ive never been to this place. The air is fresh and scenery is beautiful. How did you think of this place for a stroll?"
Chen Yunxi gazed at the opening of the watergate, from which water flowed incessantly like white silk, feeding into Cypress Pine Lake.
"My Dad was the one who paid for the third refurbishment of this watergate. Lots of manpower and resources were involved. Once it was completed and water was let through, I came to watch. Back then, I was so excited.
Gazing at how the murky brown flood water turned into clean water, clear as crystal, after flowing through the watergate the impact that made on me you wouldnt understand."
"Its alright. Ive seen similar sights in the past," Lu Sheng caressed his bald head, wondering why it took so long for new hair to grow.
"Brother Sheng. Tell me honestly. Do you despise me?" Chen Yunxi turned around, staring at Lu Sheng with a pale face.
"Youre so beautiful and virtuous, and come from such a decent family background. Who can despise you?" Lu Sheng shook his head, "I just dont want to settle down so soon."
He knew that the road ahead of him was destined to cross paths with the supernatural without end. His personality had decided that, since he possessed the Deep Blue Modifier, he would not live a mediocre life.
And such a life was destined to be one that Chen Yunxi could not accept. What she desired was simply finding a good man, living the rest of her life in peace, bearing children to inherit the family business or achieve an academic degree.
But these were not what Lu Sheng wanted.
Since he was unable to give others a future, then he should not lead them on and hinder them.
Lu Sheng understood this fact clearly. Hence, he made no effort to avoid Chen Yunxi when she approached after the ceremony, and came here with her.
"I know youre different from the rest of us," Chen Yunxi bowed her head, her voice trailing into a whisper. "My Dad also urged me not to be too persistent. From the changes on you, I can guess at the kind of life you used to lead."
"Then why do you still?" Lu Sheng asked helplessly.
"But, only when Im with you do I feel truly safe" Chen Yunxi stepped closer to Lu Sheng.
She was wearing a light, thin long-sleeved white dress. A cream-colored gauze cloak covered a pink top. A lotus leaf-shaped dress, tied with a butterfly knot to the right, covered her legs to her knees, revealing her perfect, fair and slender legs.
"You" Lu Sheng stared in surprise at Chen Yunxi. Even in the open-minded Northern Lands, it was very rare for a woman to be so near a single male.
"I like you, Brother Sheng," Chen Yunxi gazed affectionately into Lu Shengs eyes. "Even though youve lost your eyebrows, even though youve become bald, even though your muscles are getting thicker and thicker, I still like you."
Lu Sheng felt weird. Something seemed wrong to him.
"So" Chen Yunxi stepped closer again, her bust lightly caressing his chest.
An intricate jewelry box appeared in Chen Yunxis hand out of nowhere. She gently opened it, revealing a white jade thumb ring within. A soaring phoenix had been carved on the ring.
"!" exclamations burst forth in Lu Shengs mind.
Countless similar images flashed across his mind continuously. But all of those images were proposals by men to women. He had not expected in the slightest that a big beauty like Chen Yunxi would take such initiative to custom-make such an intricate white jade thumb ring to propose to him.
Helpless, Lu Sheng regained his composure.
"Im sorry. I cant give you the kind of life you want," lightly, he closed the jewelry box and pushed it back towards her.