"What happened? Young Master Chenxins not here?" Brother Song, who was on the other side, took a long, deep stretch. He sat up.
"Didn't see him since early this morning. Wonder where hes run off to," Lu Tianyang muttered quietly. "Perhaps he snuck out to meet privately with some woman," he flashed a smile universally understood by all men as he said that.
Brother Song chuckled along with him. The two of them quickly got out of bed, tidied up, and then walked out of the house.
Some of the rest had also arisen. Lu Quanan stood by the side of the ox-cart, commanding two soldiers beside to help to carry some things.
"Youre here. Where's Chenxin? Wheres that lad run off to?" Lu Quanan looked at Lu Tianyang with a frown on his face.
"Er he should be outside here somewhere. I havent seen him since I got up," Lu Tianyang answered, rubbing his head in bewilderment.
"Dongzi! Little Lin! Where are they? Where have they disappeared to!?" Brother Song, standing to the side, hollered furiously. His expression was ugly as he stood guard over the bonfire, which had been thoroughly extinguished.
"I asked those two monkeys to keep watch in the nightinstead, the fire has completely gone out. There arent even any embers left! These two bastards!" Incensed, Brother Song lashed out fiercely.
The guards all looked at each other in dismay. Although silent, they all tacitly determined to find the two who were on sentryDongzi and Little Lin.
"Who has seen Little Lin?" Brother Song asked severely.
The crowd shook their heads.
"Havent seen him this morning, perhaps he went to take a wee-wee?" Someone replied laughingly.
"NONSENSE!" Brother Song looked to the Lu family dependents by the side, his face distorted. They were all city guards, and these were the family of the Second-in-Command of the city garrison. If word were to reach his ears
"Find him! Don't dilly-dally!" He barked.
Over at Lu Quanans side, he also went about searching for a while, but to no avail. There was no sign to be seen anywhere. He began to grow anxious. No matter what sort of scoundrel Lu Chenxin was, he was still his son after all.
Both sides began their search for the missing persons. There was no response at all; three living, breathing men had actually disappeared with nary a trace.
Disquiet grew in Lu Tianyangs heart. Discretely, he approached Zhang Xiuxiu.
"Xiu Xiu, did Chenxin go to find you yesterday night?"
"Nope. I slept very soundly through the night, and didn't wake at all," Zhang Xiuxiu was also beginning to feel that something wasn't right. Her face was slightly pale.
Lu Tianyang panicked. He looked around at the large crowd of people shouting at all directions, frantically searching, but to no avail. Not a sound could be heard in response.
Beads of perspiration could be seen on Lu Quanans forehead. He arranged men to search high and low in all directions, looking into all nooks and crannies, but they still came up empty-handed.
"Old Master, we can't find them!" Brother Song soon received news from his underlings, which he swiftly reported back to Lu Quanan.
"Can't find them" Lu Quanans gaze swept across his surroundings. Somehow, he felt that as if a cloak of eeriness covered the little village.
"Its no good. Its too risky to stay here! We need to leave quickly."
"But those three who went missing" Second Mother Liu Cuiyu was worried.
"Well leave first, and then send a search party back here. We cant all stay here now!" A trace of urgency could be heard in Lu Quanans tone. This world was filled with all sorts of dangers; he couldnt put all his eggs in one basket.
"Old Master, we havent found Chenxin, we cant leave yet!" Third mother Wang Yanyu protested anxiously.
"Its not that Im leaving. I intend to shift everyone to a place of safety first, then come back to search. Well leave behind a sign for Little Three, so hell know where we are," Lu Quanan replied with a straight face. He also couldn't bear to leave his third son, but the situation was looking very dire. The two soldiers on sentry were no average Joe; both were hulking, strong men. Yet, they had disappeared without any sound.
This was not an ordinary occurrence.
He suspected that he and his men had been swept up into some sort of trouble.
"Old Master!" Wang Yanyu pleaded.
"We must leave! Now!" Lu Quanan ordered resolutely.
Under the command of Brother Song and him, the crowd swiftly gathered back into formation. Pulling along the ox carts and horse carts, they left the abandoned village at a steady pace.
Lu Quanan specially left behind a horse and some food and water for Lu Chenxin and the two soldiers, which he placed next to the well in the middle of the village. That was the most eye-catching location; anyone who entered the village would see it at first glance.
To be lost in this deserted wilderness actually, Lu Quanan knew deep down that everything bode ill for the three of them
After all, the three of them could not have traveled far in such wilderness. And if they hadnt traveled far, and yet failed to surface at the frantic calls of so many people he feared that they had really come into harms way.
Although his heart bled in pain, he had the duty to care for everyone under his charge, and couldn't risk the majority's welfare at this juncture.
At the Crimson Whale.
Inside the spacious meeting hall, the old Sect Master, Chen Ying, a few other External and Internal Affairs Emissaries, as well as Lu Sheng, were all gathered together.
First thing that morning, the old Sect Master had dispatched people to inform all the high-ranks of the sect to gather for a meeting.
No one in the group had any inkling about what was going on. After scurrying over, each of them waited at their seats.
Lu Sheng sat at the sixth External Affairs Emissaries seat, which had previously belonged to Wu San.
Cool rays of the sun shone in from the side of the big hall. It passed through the stained glass windows, reflecting all sorts of colorfully distorted images on the ground.
Servant girls scampered around, serving piping hot tea and cakes before retreating.
The old Sect Masters gaze was dignified and commanded respect from all present. He scanned over the group.
"Alright, those who have no business here, leave," he signaled with his hand.
All the servant-girls promptly obeyed and withdrew from the big hall. Only Crimson Whale Sects high-ranks remained.
The main doors slowly shut tight with a dull BAM, closing completely. The atmosphere in the main hall seemed to grow heavier with each second ticking by. Everyone present could tell that something was off in the old Sect Masters expression.
"Just what has happened?" Frowning, Chen Ying took the initiative to ask.
"Sect Master, has there been developments in the North?" Another External Affairs Emissary asked.
"No, its one of the areas under our purview. Theres been a problem," the old Sect Masters voice was tense. Gingerly, he retrieved from within his sleeves a silver-colored letter. This letter was very unique; it was actually not made from paper, but a bizarre silver-colored gold.
"Everyone here knows who stands behind Crimson Whale Sect. This time, the information was transmitted precisely by them," Hong Mingzis voice was not loud, but the message it contained caused the hearts of all those present to tremble.
"This information was transmitted by them?" Unaware of it himself, Chen Yings large hands had gripped tightly onto the handles of his chair. "They sent out news once ten years ago, which resulted in the deaths of over a thousand in our Sect. And theres news again this time" his face turned ugly.
Lu Shengs eyes narrowed into a slit.
"The Noble FamilyZhen Family," the old Sect Master Hong Mingzi replied.
'Noble Family' Lu Sheng was thoroughly shaken. Indeed
Everyone else grew solemn. As for the term Noble Family, only those of such high rank like them would understand its implications.
Heavy faces could be seen on all the people present.
"The Zhen Family members usually hardly make an appearance. Once they do, it means the situation has come to a head. Dont tell me that now" Elder Wang said gravely.
"The situation now is indeed in an extremely bad shape," Hong Mingzi replied soberly. "Ive only just received the news. In just one night, in the entire Northern lands from the Xichuan Manor to the Donglin Manor, as long as its within our Crimson Whale Sect jurisdictionin just one night, eight forbidden zones have sprung up!"
"EIGHT FORBIDDEN ZONES???" Chen Yings eyes bulged in surprise. Unable to contain his shock, he had involuntarily stood up.
It wasnt just him. The others were also in an uproar.
What was a forbidden zone? The Song Manor that left Lu Sheng wounded previously was one of them; in fact, it was considered a rudimentary forbidden zone that had been just formed. The Northern lands, in its entirety, were such a vast area that originally already had quite a few forbidden zones. Now, eight more forbidden zones had sprung up all of a sudden. This meant that on any day, someone could easily take a wrong route and accidentally enter a forbidden zone.
By the time the person realized and tried to escape, it would depend on the persons luck. If his luck were bad, then there wasn't even any way of knowing how he would die.
Lu Sheng also understood the gravity of the situation. His posture was tense as he listened intently to what the old Sect Master continued to share with them.
"The Zhen Family views this as a severe provocation towards them, and thus has sent out specialists to settle the matter," Hong Mingzi explained briefly. "The Nobleman representative they have dispatched to look into the matter is surnamed Zhen, first name Xun. He asks that we deal adequately with the aftermath of the new eight forbidden areas' appearance. He seeks our full cooperation to ensure that there will be no widespread panic."
"Just he alone would be able to settle it?" Chen Ying asked doubtfully.
"Theres indeed just this Young Master Zhen Xun from the Zhen Family who was sent here. However, according to how its usually done, this Young Master Zhen Xun should be the one in-charge, but there will be others dispatched under him. Otherwise, with so many places to cover, merely running to and fro each location would take up quite a massive amount of time," Hong Mingzi replied. "Here are the details on the eight forbidden zoneseveryone, take a look."
He handed over the letter to Chen Ying, who scanned through it and passed it over to the next person. This cycle repeated itself.
Very soon, the letter landed in Lu Shengs hands. He unfurled it gently.
On the letter was a map of a greater part of the Northern lands. On it, eight small red dots had been distinctly indicated.
He was looking through it when suddenly, his eyes focused on one particular red dot.
"Theres also a forbidden zone between Nine Links City and Mountain-Edge City?" He couldn't help but ask.
"Yes," the old Sect Master Hong Mingzi nodded. "Junior Apprentice Brother, you best inform your family to make a detour around that place."
Lu Sheng was somber as he nodded.
This was the first time that he officially got into contact with a Noblemanexcluding Duanmu Wan. Just what sort of difference existed between them, the average person, and the martial arts practitioners? He wasn't sure.
Perhaps, he would be able to identify the crux of the matter this time.
After making the situation clear, the old Sect Master promptly assigned the individuals responsible for managing the aftermath around specific forbidden zones.
Lu Sheng likewise was assigned a mission. Probably out of consideration for him, he was deployed to that forbidden zone between Nine Links City and Mountain-Edge City.
After they dispersed from the meeting, Lu Sheng swiftly chose his men and horses. There was a total of twenty men, making it twenty-one including him. Five of them were Strength Proficiency experts of the Soaring Eagle Squad, while the rest were all strong, elite saber masters. Twenty men on twenty horses made a dash for the location at full speed.
He wanted to see how exactly were the Noblemen different from the average people.
The horses ran at full pelt without making any rest stops. By the time it was almost noon, Lu Sheng had finally arrived at the forbidden zone.
In the abandoned village.
After Lu Quanans entourage left steadily, it was nearly noontime when the village by the main road again received another guest.
Under the gloomy gray sky, a perfectly black horse trotted unhurriedly into the little village.
On top of the horse sat a young, smiling Young Master of a mild disposition.
"Is this the place?" The smile was plastered on the Young Masters face, almost as if it were frozen. It was consistently the same smile.
He was dressed in green robes and entirely unarmed, with nary a piece of metal to be found on his body. With only a piece of dark green jade hanging from his waistband, he looked entirely plain and simple.