Way of the Devil

 
 

Way of the Devil Chapter 3


'A hallucination? Or not a hallucination?'

Lu Sheng's eyes narrowed. He suppressed the doubts in his heart.

"I'm fine," he replied calmly, straightening his back.

"Young Master… Lord Xu and the rest, they all were such good men. Such good officials. How can it be…?" Little Qiao's eyes welled up with tears and she started crying.

Lu Sheng stared silently at the Xu family corpses that lay on the floor.

All of them were greenish gray and had ligature marks on their necks.

The Prefect glanced at them a few times and then left hurriedly, leaving it for the Chief Constable in charge of the case to handle.

Several yamen officials, who were also responsible for investigation, went aside to discuss the case with the Chief Constable.

"Young Master, Old Master asks you to come over," a servant ran to Lu Sheng and whispered to him while looking sympathetically at the corpses of the Xu family members lying on the ground.

"I'll be right there." Lu Sheng glanced at the servant. "Are you scared?"

"I am scared," the servant was merely eighteen or nineteen, yet carried an air of maturity beyond his age about him. "But, your servant is a refugee from Ju Rong Nation in the east. There's a famine over there now. Corpses are all over the ground everywhere. Quite a few people even trade their children with each other to eat them. Pitiful scenes like this are commonplace… ai…"

He sighed. But realizing quickly that he was not chatting with one of his friends, he immediately bowed his head.

"Commonplace? Are there many of such incidents in Ju Rong nation in the east?" Lu Sheng asked casually.

The servant fell into silence for a moment. "More than a few."

Lu Sheng's heart tightened.

Without a pause in his steps, he quickly walked to the father of his present self - Lu Fang.

Lu Fang. Other name - Quanan, a.k.a. the Golden Dollar Man.

Lu Quanan's wealth was famous even in the entire Nine Links City. News that the Lu and Xu Family were about to be joined by marriage had also spread throughout the city. Even people from Zi Hua City in the west had come to present their wedding gifts.

To think that a topic as hot and event as celebrated as this would come to end in such a manner.

Presently, Lu Quanan's face was extremely ugly. Heavy fatigue and worry were visible in his eyes.

"Tell Constable Zhao about yesterday's situation in detail."

He moved aside to make space for an approaching bearded man.

In his mind, Lu Sheng kept replaying what he had heard from Xu Daoran yesterday. He believed that the water ghost case must be related to the Xu Family deaths. So, he recounted his conversation with Xu Daoran the previous day.

He didn't hide anything.

Chief Constable Zhao's brows knit together. He, too, saw no major clue in the entire affair.

Seeing that there were no more questions for him, Lu Sheng departed.

Before leaving, the yamen's men began to clean up the corpses.

Lu Sheng stared for a while from the sidelines. When he saw Xu Daoran being lifted up on the stretcher, he sighed and approached a constable nearby and asked," Brother, are there any surviving members of the Xu family?"

He thought that if there were any survivors from the Xu family, he would take care of him or her and perhaps even learn some useful information from them.

"Nope… they're all gone. Even their external relatives' entire families were implicated. Perhaps they've still got a few distant relatives in Zi Hua city," the constable shook his head and whispered.

Lu Sheng quietly stuffed a silver coin into his hand. Then, taking Little Qiao along with him, he boarded the horse carriage with his family.

The horse carriage headed back towards home.

However, the Xu family's pitiful state was still on everyone's minds.

As the head of the family, Lu Fang aka Lu Quanan assembled everyone for a family meeting and announced that the engagement with Xu family was void from now on and the women were to console Yiyi. Then, he returned by himself to rest in his room.

One by one, the young men in the family went out, be it to the winery in the city, or to the brothel and other similar establishments. That was their usual way of numbing themselves to traumatic events.

As for the women, they went out to the nearby Red Lotus Temple to pray for peace and protection.

Ideally, they would come back with a talisman from the Red Lotus priest which would protect the family from invasion by any external evils.

The entire Lu family was fraught with fear.

But Lu Sheng did not go out. Instead, he brought Little Qiao with him and headed for the library where the family kept its books.

The library was in absolute silence. He pushed the doors open and entered to see a plump woman wiping the shelves.

The mahogany shelves and furniture as well as the faint light streaming in from the windows gave this place an eerie atmosphere.

Lu Sheng went past the wooden partition blocking the entrance, which featured a circular painting of flowers and birds, sniffing the faint fragrance of wood in the library.

"Take your leave first. I'll read some books by myself and take a rest," he instructed.

"Yes," Little Qiao replied obediently and left together with the plump cleaning woman.

Standing alone in the library and staring at the rows of shelves before him, Lu Sheng sighed. Then, he began to search the shelves one by one.

Very quickly, he found some sort of local prefectural record books. Taking all of these books out of the shelves, he began flipping through them one by one.

Using the faint light streaming in from the windows, he quickly browsed through one of them from cover to cover.

"In the seventy-second year of the Great Song, a man appeared in the outskirts of Nine Links City and slaughtered twelve with a saber in a frenzy. Killed after being surrounded and attacked by yamen constables."

"In the eighty-fifth year of the Great Song, on the streets in downtown Nine Links City, a man's head was suddenly separated from his body. Cause of death remains unknown."

"In the ninety-first year of the Great Song, tourists went missing in the deserted temple outside the city, numbering at least fifteen. Case remains unsolved till the current date."

"In the ninety-fifth year of the Great Song, the owner of Nine Links City Music Plaza went missing. His limbs were later discovered in four different locations of the city. The corpse had already decomposed into bones despite only four days passing since his death."

"In the hundred and sixteenth year of the Great Song, a baby's cry from outside the city was heard at night. Those sent to investigate all went missing. The sounds of crying could be heard for three days before vanishing by themselves."

***

Reading the records of these cases, both big and small, Lu Sheng grew increasingly shocked and terrified. It was deeply unnerving.

It was truly no simple feat for people to retain their sanity and live normally in a world like this, grave danger awaiting at every step.

He opened another book. It was even more exaggerated than the previous one.

"In the hundred and nineteenth year of the Great Song, a blizzard broke out in Nine Links. The Dragon Lord was rumored to have appeared somewhere, causing the snow to stop in three days. Three days later, the blizzard that lasted for more than ten days ended abruptly."

"In the hundred and twenty-eighth year of the Great Song, fog appeared on the road leading towards Zi Hua City. Those who entered the fog would lose their bearings and appear mysteriously by the coast of the White Frozen Sea several miles away. Ten days later, the fog disappeared."

Having read till this point, Lu Sheng was almost certain that this world was not as simple as he had thought. Demons, ghosts and monsters probably really existed here.

At least he currently knew of no method in this world which could manipulate the weather.

He shifted the chair, picked up a flint and lit up the candles on the table. Their bright yellow flame flickered, casting shadows on his face.

"If this world is truly as dangerous as I think, then what do I need to protect myself? What can I use to protect myself?"

He asked himself and thought about this question for a moment by the table.

Then, rising slowly, Lu Sheng blew out the candle and returned all the books on the table to their places on the shelves.

He pushed the doors open and stepped out.

"Young Master, you're done reading?"

Little Qiao was dozing off, her back against the door. She was caught by surprise when Lu Sheng suddenly came out, but still reacted quickly.

"Mm. Where's Uncle Zhao now? Do you know?" Lu Sheng asked casually.

There were many surnamed Zhao and of similar age in the Lu Manor, but only one of them was known to all as Uncle Zhao.

He was the one whom even Lu Fang addressed as Uncle Zhao, the number one expert and the strongest martial arts master in the Lu family - Zhao Dahu.

"Er… at this time of a day Uncle Zhao is usually at the martial arts arena, tempering his bones and training the servants," Little Qiao was on good terms with other servants and so was rather well-informed.

"Let's go find him."

Lu Sheng thought long and hard. Uncle Zhao was the easiest person within his reach from whom he could learn some self-preservation skills.

Walking along the path in the manor, Lu Sheng quickly traversed two stretches of sleeping quarters and arrived at the back of the manor.

Atop a big arena, a white-haired elder was leading more than ten servants in practicing martial arts.

The light of the morning sun washed down on them, gradually lightening Lu Sheng's heart which was heavy with the terrible events he had learned of in the morning.

The martial arts master Zhao Dahu wore an outfit of short athletic robes, consisting of a black top and grey pants. On his back, he carried a giant thick-backed saber that never left his body.

Lu Sheng waited and observed on the side.

On the arena, Zhao Dahu trained the servants for a while, then let them train on their own in pairs against each other.

He himself, however, approached Lu Sheng. He had noticed Lu Sheng much earlier already.

"Young Master, what brought you here today to the arena? Is there something for which you need an old man's help?"

Zhao Dahu's status in the manor was more or less equal to that of Old Master's.

There were also several other martial arts masters whose status was not low and interacted with these young masters and ladies as equals.

Lu Sheng glanced at the servants who were still practicing their moves not far away.

"Uncle Zhao, I wish to learn martial arts," as the words left Lu Sheng's mouth, Zhao Dahu's smile momentarily froze on his face.

"Big Brother Sheng, you haven't come here to pull an old man's leg, have you?" [1]

"I'm not pulling your leg," Lu Sheng shook his head.

He had given it more than enough thought. The easiest and the only available way for him to acquire some self-preservation skills was to start by learning from the martial arts masters in his own house.

And among those in the entire Nine Links City, the ones who could best the saber technique of the martial arts master in his own house - Zhao Dahu aka Uncle Zhao - could be counted on one hand.

Zhao Dahu looked at Lu Sheng seriously and shook his head. "If Brother Sheng is serious about learning martial arts, then what this old man is capable of, I can impart to you. But… you're too old, so your bones' shape is fixed and you won't be able to execute many of the moves properly at all. And if you can't execute them properly, then the might of this skill will be greatly reduced…"

"It's fine. Uncle Zhao, just teach it to me."

Lu Sheng was not merely seeking some self-preservation skill, but also to test and verify something.

Zhao Dahu fell deep in thought for a moment. Finally, he straightforwardly agreed.

"Might as well, then. I've got no heir… and having lived with the Lu family for so many years, it's been a good life and Old Master has been good to us. If we go by the book, you're learning my craft and so must perform the discipleship ceremony. But given my relationship with the Lu family, forget about becoming my disciple. Just don't leak my craft out to anyone else," Zhao Dahu said with a wave of his hand.

As the eldest son in the family, it was only a matter of time before Lu Sheng took over all businesses and properties under the Lu Manor.

So, he also harbored intentions of pulling him closer to himself.

"But, Brother Sheng, there's something I need to make clear to you beforehand."

"Please speak," Lu Sheng replied earnestly.

Zhao Dahu caressed the beard on his chin and said in a low voice. "I know you want to learn martial arts for self-protection because of the terrible Xu family case from this morning. But let me set this straight. Not even the strongest experts in the pugilistic world can handle these strange and weird things, mired in odd mystery as they are. "

"…I got it," Lu Sheng nodded. "I just… feel unsettled. I'll simply do what I can."

"As long as Brother Sheng understands." Zhao Dahu thought for a moment, then pulled out a small booklet from his chest, wrapped in layers and layers of yellow cloth. Meticulously, he slowly unwrapped it, revealing the booklet underneath.

Several big words were written on the cover: "Black Tiger Saber Technique."

[1] ED/N: The Big Brother here means something along the lines of "I'll flatter you a bit, so stop joking around/messing with me, would you?" Similar way of addressing others can be often seen in novels in similar situations (the one I've seen the most times was Big Brother, followed by Aunt)... or so I thought, but the old codger still keeps on using it, so just keep in mind that it can be used this way…