Way of the Devil Chapter 16
'Not too shabby. Good thing I've been focusing on nourishing Yin during this period. This second level is also the highest level of the Jade Crane Skill; an average person would need five years to attain it. I've cut down five years to such a short time, so naturally, the stress on my body is a lot bigger than when I was becoming initiated in the skill.'
He felt out the state of his body's interior in detail.
Although weak, it was actually a lot better than before. Looks like him nursing his health recently had indeed been effective.
"HOO…" He exhaled at length.
Lu Sheng could feel the circle of inner Qi within his chest thickening from the width of a chopstick to that of nine chopsticks.
Qi that was the width of nine chopsticks combined together was quite a lot thicker than it was previously. The second level of the Jade Crane Skill clearly felt different from before.
Lu Sheng felt highly invigorated as he breathed in and out. His reaction speed was also a lot faster than usual.
'According to the records on the second level of Jade Crane Skill, it should be able to extend longevity and help staunch bleeding faster. I'll test the effect of the inner force tomorrow, then. Also, I should get in touch with Duanmu Wan and see if I can get any new inner force skills from her.'
Since the Jade Crane Skill was authentic, then the other inner force manuals might also be real. He wanted to try and see what would happen if he cultivated in several different inner force skills at the same time.
Logically, as long as the inner force skills were not in conflict with each other, then it should be possible to combine them.
Having thought that, Lu Sheng once again lay on his bed to rest.
However, just as he lay down, he could hear faint footsteps from beyond the courtyard, as if someone was leaving for a journey.
Listening to the rhythm, it sounded very much like steps of Lu Qingqing.
Lu Sheng shook his head and paid it no heed. In this period, Lu Qingqing left the house in the middle of the night almost every few days to gallivant around the city.
Who knew what leads she had found.
Initially, he had even tailed her carefully for a stretch, but then realized that his footwork was way incomparable to that of Lu Qingqing's. He had lost her after just a moment, and then subsequently decided not to waste his energy.
Early next morning, Lu Sheng carried the silver notes that he had prepared and headed straight for the Thousand Blessings Inn, where Duanmu Wan was staying.
"What? She's already checked out?"
Lu Sheng's eyebrows furrowed as he stared at the innkeeper.
"When was that?"
"Roughly half a month ago, Miss Duanmu was invited by a few young masters to sightsee at Red Lotus Temple. After that, she sent somebody to come back to check out."
The innkeeper was also very smitten with Duanmu Wan.
After all, she was a natural beauty. Furthermore, many young masters had come round to pursue her, and she herself spent money like sailor on a shore leave. Naturally, all these left a very deep impression on him.
"Red Lotus Temple…"
Lu Sheng frowned. His intuition told him that, most likely, Duanmu Wan was not at Red Lotus Temple.
It was but a mere excuse for her to suddenly check out.
"Then forget it."
Waving a folding fan in hand, he left the inn. His two bodyguards kept watch outside the door.
"How did it go, Young Master? Did you find Miss Duanmu?" The guard Little Song interacted with Lu Sheng very much on a day-to-day basis; he also helped Lu Sheng clean up all sorts of venues for him to train martial arts. Occasionally, he would even train alongside Lu Sheng on the arena; his martial arts skills were still passable.
"Nope, she's left," Lu Sheng shook his head.
"Then where are we headed now?"
"Where? Back to the Manor."
Having failed to obtain any secret manuals, Lu Sheng's mood was sour.
The three of them boarded a horse carriage and made their way back straight to the Lu Manor. Just as they approached the front of the residence, they saw that another yellow horse carriage had already stopped in front of the main entrance.
Carved on the side of the horse carriage was the big character "Zhang 张".
Lu Sheng's face flickered. A long time has passed since a member of the Zhang Family was murdered; they had finally made their way here.
But he was not afraid. He got Little Song and the rest to leave, before entering via the main entrance alone.
Looking in from the main entrance, he was just able to see into the Main Hall. Currently, Lu Quanan, accompanied by another martial artist, was attending to someone from the Zhang Family.
The Zhang Family had only sent one person over.
It was a man of roughly thirty or so years of age, with narrow eyes and thick brows.
"… How could my son have done such a thing, the Zhang Family must have made a mistake!" Lu Quanan sat on the host seat, his face a picture of calmness.
"Quite a few people witnessed it at that time! How could it be false?!"
That man boiled with anger.
"I don't care how powerful your Zhang Family is in Zi Hua City, this is Nine Links City, not your Zi Hua! Your Zhang Family may be strong, but my Lu Family is no pushover! If you continue to frame us, don't blame me, Lu Quanan, for being unkind!" Lu Quanan said coldly.
The Zhang Family man was trembling all over from his rage. He was speechless as he pointed his finger at Lu Quanan.
"Fine, fine, fine!!! The Lu Family head really has guts. I will definitely transmit your message, word for word, back to Family Head Song Xi! Goodbye!"
He turned around and strode off.
Halfway to the carriage, he met Lu Sheng but did not recognize him. He continued to angrily storm out of the manor.
Lu Sheng was not surprised. Given the Song Dynasty's weakened state in this time, the land was highly divided. Moreover, they were far away in the North, where city heads and local powers were overlords in the land.
Even in the Central Plains, big families like the Lu Family largely paid lip service to the government, opposing it inwardly while showing outward devotion. It had even led to quite a number of scuffles.
This Zhang Family actually dared to come up here to interrogate them and pursue matters! Did they think they were in their own Zi Hua City?!
The man brushed past Lu Sheng, furiously stormed into the horse carriage and left.
Lu Sheng walked into the Main Hall and saw his father Lu Quanan seated on the chair, his face nonplussed.
"Dad, finished settling your business?" He asked lightly, signaling to the surrounding guards for them to leave as he wished to speak alone with his Dad.
Lu Quanan sighed. Seeing that it was Lu Sheng, he could not help but smile a little. "Little Sheng, you have to look after your younger sister more, don't let her run around the city all day."
"I am not able to control her," Lu Sheng shook his head, a bitter smile on his face. "Dad, the thing that the higher ups wanted us to find - has it been found? So, is it a person or a thing that they're looking for?"
"It could be a thing, and could also be a person. It's hard to say for sure!" Lu Quanan shook his head, deliberately keeping his voice low.
"Currently, the Prefect is having a headache because of the Xu Family case and the Wang Villa well incident beyond the city. Especially the latter—so many constables weren't able to find any leads, so what could your younger sister achieve by herself? Get her to stay at home and behave herself."
"She's gone to investigate the Wang Villa case?" Lu Sheng was shocked.
"You didn't know? The yamen's constables even saw that girl Qingqing at the Wang Villa. Every two to three days, she'd pick up some fugitives or suspects and send them to the yamen. Almost everyone there knows her by now," Lu Quanan said helplessly.
"I see…" Lu Sheng frowned. "I've been busy lately gathering martial arts skills, and haven't had the time to look after her."
"Gathering martial arts skills… you've already spent close to five thousand talents on that. How's the progress?" Lu Quanan asked casually.
"I've already collected quite a number. I'll gather and organize them into a scripture library at home. That way, it'll be a lot easier for our Lu Family to grow some experts," Lu Sheng said seriously.
"I have somewhat guessed what you intend to do. In these troubled and chaotic times, it's not enough to just rely on the ten over of us in the family. We need to train more experts of our own. Which was also why I've given you my unconditional support ever since I heard that you're gathering martial arts," Lu Quanan was grim as he spoke.
"We've a total of eighty-six servant guards in the family that we can deploy at any time. However, because we need to defend our manor, the actual number that we can deploy is just about forty or so," Lu Sheng calculated for a moment. "These forty people are hardly even enough to look after the safety of our Lu Family's thirteen small villas and sixteen shop-houses outside.
"Of course dad knows this, but… trustworthy people are really hard to come by…" Lu Quanan sighed.
"What about adopting orphans? There are quite a few street urchins within the city, right?" Lu Sheng suggested.
"Well… At the end of the day, we've got to consider what the other families will think…" Lu Quanan hesitated.
"We're short-handed to begin with, so why do we need to be concerned about the other families? Can't we just proceed under the table?" Lu Sheng argued.
"This is a sensitive issue, one where the slightest move has huge repercussions. If the other families find out, they will definitely reprimand our Lu Family for being ambitious and too high-profile," Lu Quanan shook his head lightly.
Lu Sheng tried to persuade him some more, but to no avail.
In his heart, he knew that Lu Quanan was no longer full of vigor like his younger self. In those days, he was without a penny and did not have people who depended on him that he would have to worry about. Therefore, he was unwavering and bold in his decisions, and was able to build up an incredible estate for the Lu Family.
Now, though… he hesitated and shilly-shallied back and forth about matters.
Lu Sheng was able to see that the fact that Lu Quanan supported his gathering of martial arts was because he himself also had the mind to expand.
However, when the rubber meets the road, he was full of uncertainty and of two minds about matters.
After saying a bit more, Lu Sheng stopped trying to persuade him, merely mentioning about the health of some of those in the family. After that, he took his leave.
Standing alone in the Main Hall, Lu Quanan's brow was deeply furrowed, as hesitant as he was earlier.
Lu Sheng, on the other hand, had already decided not to rely on his old dad anymore. In this chaotic world, if he were not strong enough, then others would definitely see him as prey sooner or later.
He left the Main Hall and went ahead to the arena to continue practicing martial arts.
After he had achieved the peak of the Jade Crane Skill, he was full of spirit and vigor all throughout the day. Even though he busied himself from dawn to dusk, he did not feel too drained.
When he sensed a bit of fatigue, he would sit down to rest for just a moment before his body would feel every bit as alive as a dragon or a tiger and he would be able to continue working for hours at a stretch.
On the arena, he trained his saber skills all the way till evening.
Only then, with his entire body drenched in perspiration, he went to shower and rushed to have his dinner.
At dinner, Lu Quanan, Second Mother and Lu Sheng sat at one table, while the rest of the relatives sat by themselves at another big table.
Such was the custom. Lu Quanan was the household head, Lu Sheng was the future household head, and Second Mother was extremely close to both Lu Quanan and Lu Sheng. She was also in charge of the day-to-day matters of the female servants and maids in the back yard.
These three people thus enjoyed the three highest positions in the entire Lu Family.
Only after them came Third Mother, Fourth Mother, Fifth mother, Lu Qingqing, Lu Yingying, Lu Chenxin and others in the family.
Although the Lu Family was a first-generation upstart family, they modeled themselves after the customs of the other influential and great households in many areas.
For example, one of those practices was not to speak when eating and not to converse when sleeping.
People ate around two big tables, with only the sound of chopsticks hitting bowls ringing out occasionally. Besides that, it was a state of utter silence.
Lu Quanan, who almost never spoke at the dining table, suddenly opened his mouth.
Once he did, the whole family paused eating to listen. That was also part of the etiquette. After all, if it weren't a highly important matter, he usually would not speak at the dining table.
Lu Sheng put down his chopsticks and looked at Lu Quanan.
"You said that you couldn't gather any more martial arts in Nine Links City. Do you want to make a trip to Mountain Edge City?" Lu Quanan asked seriously.
"Mountain Edge City?"
Lu Sheng was shocked. He had not thought that his old dad actually wanted him to leave Nine Links City.
"Yea." Lu Quanan nodded. "I have an old friend there. His letter a few days back mentioned that there are famed experts from the Central Plains currently in Mountain Edge City who are opening their doors to impart their skills. If you are willing, you can make a trip there. Who knows, you might be able to bring back one or two sets of truly remarkable martial arts from the Central Plains."