Way of the Devil

 
 

Way of the Devil Chapter 49


"Jun’er!" Song Zhenguo was stunned. He wrapped his arms around Jun’er, his face the picture of worry. "What happened to you? What happened!? JUST WHAT’S GOING ON?!"

Wrapped tightly in his embrace, Jun’er smiled helplessly. "Elder Brother Song… I… I…"

Lu Sheng stood at the side. Actually, he had long since guessed that Jun’er may not be human. Now, unfortunately, his suspicion was confirmed.

Perhaps all the ladies aboard the boat weren’t human, but rather women who had died a long time ago. However, some special power bound them to the boat like fetters, exploiting their beauty for some secret agenda.

He walked off silently, taking care not to disturb the both of them. Standing at an open space nearby to watch over Chen Jiaorong, he began to focus on recuperating from his injuries. With every circulation of the Black Tiger Jade Crane Skill, he felt a mild tingling sensation around his wounds. It was the sensation of his flesh recovering.

More or less after the time it took an incense stick to burn, Song Zhenguo walked over. His eyes were bloodshot; Jun’er had already disappeared without a trace.

"Come, let’s go back…" he said solemnly, his voice somewhat hoarse.

Lu Sheng pieced things together; Jun’er must have had some links with the haunted boat Scarlet Decks after all. Now that the boat was no more, the people on board also perished. Perhaps Song Zhenguo too realized what was going on.

Both of them headed back towards Mountain-Edge City silently as they carried Chen Jiaorong. Song Zhenguo kept silent throughout the journey; Lu Sheng did not say anything either. Only when they were almost at the city gates of Mountain-Edge City did Song Zhenguo ask abruptly, "Brother Lu, can I learn martial arts from you?" His eyes were both pleading and sorrowful. Clearly, Jun’er’s death dealt a huge blow to him.

Lu Sheng stopped in his tracks. Looking at him, he sighed deeply. "There’s definitely a very powerful foe behind Jun’er’s incident. Otherwise, Mountain-Edge City’s yamen wouldn’t have allowed the ghost boat to stay moored on the lake so brazenly, causing harm to humans. In reality, they didn't really harm anybody on a day-to-day basis either. Perhaps it’s just a cover-up for the moment when they needed to make a move."

Song Zhenguo smiled bitterly, shaking his head, "I understand all that you’re saying. Brother Lu has already killed that white-dressed female ghost who was ultimately responsible for Jun’er’s death and avenged her. There’s no issue now. It’s just… I just don't want something like this repeating itself in the future…"

Lu Sheng looked at him and was able to see a deep sense of helplessness and misery within his eyes.

"You should know that among all the martial arts in this world, the ordinary martial arts can be learned by simply forking out enough money. The truly exclusive ones, however, are not passed down casually."

Song Zhenguo’s eyes were resolute. "What will it take for Brother Lu to be willing to teach me, then? Should I formally take you as my Master? No problem!"

"No… there’s no hurry. I can’t be certain whether you have the aptitude for martial arts training. You need to go through some tests first," Lu Sheng himself had only dabbled in martial arts halfway into life. He currently did not have a way to test one’s aptitude, and could only use him as a trial.

Moreover, exclusive martial arts could not be passed down casually. This was an established unspoken rule he did not wish to violate. Simply speaking, exclusive martial arts were largely the result of their creator’s painstaking study as well as a very long process of trial and error. It was a martial arts skill that was created through the sacrifice of copious amounts of blood, sweat and tears, sometimes even at the expense of inflicting a grievous injury upon one’s body.

Without a good reason, who would be willing to pass down such an inheritance to just anybody? It was akin to an extremely wealthy merchant who casually handed over his empire, painstakingly built over decades, to some random outsider. How was that possible?

This was the truth behind what many experts termed heirloom martial arts. It wasn't passed down to outsiders. Naturally, it was inherited only by one's family members.

Lu Sheng had also heard of people who passed down martial arts to others casually. Often, such people had procured the martial arts too easily and did not treasure them.

However, he couldn't care less about this. With the Modifier, it was futile for anyone to compete with him in martial arts cultivation speed. He could reach the pinnacle of any given skill faster than any other ordinary person by leaps and bounds.

Therefore, what Lu Sheng was worried about was not this. Rather, he was afraid of exposing himself. Once others knew that his martial arts were extrapolated by himself out of a combination of different martial arts, it would very likely attract a lot of attention.

This did not align with his plan to stay in the shadows as he raised his power secretly.

"How about this--I’ll give you a test before I decide whether or not to teach you martial arts," Lu Sheng intended to take things as they came. If Song Zhenguo was indeed gifted, then he would pass down a basic skill to him first.

"Great!"

Song Zhenguo was also aware that there would be some tests and the sort in the passing down of martial arts skills. The heroes in the popular novels all followed such a rule.

Lugging Chen Jiaorong along, the two of them entered into the city one after another. Almost immediately, the boss of a clothing store at the city gates saw Chen Jiaorong and hurried off to relay the news.

Given Lu Sheng’s present appearance, it was inconvenient for him to be seen. Thus, he let Song Zhenguo carry Chen Jiaorong back to the Chen Family and provide an explanation while he himself slid away quietly to return home.

On his entire way home, people on the street looked at him strangely. Many children even followed close behind him for a distance, as if he was some sort of novelty.

Lu Sheng could do nothing but increase his pace. When he finally reached home, he groped around only to discover that his key and money pouch were both lost in the fire.

‘That’s a huge loss… all the silver notes were inside…’ Lu Sheng stood in a daze, immediately feeling worse.

"Dong, dong, dong."

With no other option, he knocked on the door.

"Coming coming!" Little Qiao hurried over, her crisp footsteps sounding out, "Who is it?"

"It’s me," Lu Sheng replied. "Dropped my key. Open the door, Little Qiao."

Hearing his voice, she hastily opened the door.

The door gradaully opened to reveal Little Qiao’s pretty and cute face. With a smile, she raised her head to look over.

The moment her eyes landed on Lu Sheng, the little girl was stupefied. Then, her two eyes bulged wide open. "You… you, you…!!!" After which, her eyes flipped as she fainted and fell to the ground.

Lu Sheng was speechless. Hearing the startled sounds of the shopkeeper below, he quickly got into the room and lifted Little Qiao onto the bed. Then, he went to boil water for the wooden cask.

After a spate of busyness, Lu Sheng was finally able to wash himself. He scrubbed viciously at the soot all over his body, which dyed the entire cask of water pitch-black. After that, Lu Sheng again prepared a basin of water and wiped his entire body with a towel. That too soon turned grayish black. Only then did he feel cleaner.

A while after he had washed and dressed himself, Qiao’er regained her senses. When she saw him, her eyes stretched widely. Only after careful examination was she able to identify Young Master Lu Sheng whom she attended to daily.

Lu Sheng patiently explained himself, saying something along the lines of getting caught in a fire that burnt his clothes, but not sustaining any major injuries… after that, Qiao’er hastily ran off to find a physician. Other than the money that was on Lu Sheng’s person, there were still some taels of silver that had been saved for Little Qiao’s daily expenses. It was still enough to get a physician.

Tears welled up in Qiao’er’s eyes as she looked at the burn wounds all over Lu Sheng’s body. She sat by the side as the physician slowly applied medication, looking like she wanted to reach out to soothe him, yet holding back in fear of hurting him.

After applying medication over all his burn wounds, Lu Sheng stayed at home to rest. He did not even return to the study hall.

He recovered from most of his injuries after staying home to recuperate for only half a month. It was just his skin that looked different from previously--where there used to be hair, he was now entirely bald.

What was strange about it was that there were actually no scars on his body from the fire. Rather, all his hair had been burnt. His entire appearance was bald; he had no hair, no eyebrows, and even his mustache was gone. He was all slick and smooth.

After taking leave from school and staying home for a period, it was soon the time for the Annual Examinations.

After Song Zhenguo returned, there was no news from him whatsoever. As for Chen Jiaorong, after he got back and got wind of what happened, he merely wrote a letter to Lu Sheng to thank him for saving his life. However, that letter did not mention anything about the supernatural on the ghost boat Scarlet Decks; most likely, Song Zhenguo had not shared about it with him. Even if he had, Jiaorong might not have believed him.

In the letter, he mentioned that he had been grounded. Although going to the pleasure boat wasn't considered something evil, it was after all not a very upright thing to do and not something to be aired in public. Furthermore, the matter had been blown out of proportion this time round and he had almost been burnt to death. This threw his old man into a fit of furore, who ordered him to be grounded.

Chen Yunxi herself came to personally express thanks to Lu Sheng, and even brought along a pair of white jade qilin as a token of appreciation. Representing her father, the household head of the Chen Family, she also invited him over as a guest once he was fully recovered.

When she saw Lu Sheng’s bald appearance, she got the fright of her life. However, she then found it rather amusing instead. Pursing her lips and keeping her worry to herself, she hung out with Lu Sheng for more than half a day. After laughing and joking around with him, she returned home late in the evening.

After Lu Sheng recuperated at home for a while longer, gradually, his body fully recovered.

Moreover, he decided to find some way to test the present strength and state of his body. Ever since the explosion at the pleasure boat, he had been feeling very troubled.

Yet, before that, a person appeared out of the blue and somewhat disturbed his plans.

***

In a bustling teahouse near the military headquarters of Mountain-Edge City.

High up on a red three-story teahouse, Lu Sheng sat facing a pretty lady in a black veil. They were seated in a private chamber on the highest level.

On a table between them were various plates of teatime snacks, including melon seeds, chicken claws, fruits and nuts. A big vermilion-red pot was perched silently in the middle of the table, threads of steam still rising up from its mouth. In front of each of them was a teacup, half filled with swirling green tea.

Lu Sheng reached forward to pick up a fried fig and put it into his mouth. His eyes, however, were fixed calmly on the woman sitting across him.

"How many times have we met by now?"

Duanmu Wan laughed, fatigue showing on her face. "I just happened to pass by on my way to meet a… err… a friend, I guess. Little did I expect to run into you on the street."

She had caught sight of Lu Sheng on his way out for breakfast as she rode across the street on horse. After the two of them encountered each other by chance, Lu Sheng suggested going somewhere for a drink together. Somehow, something came over her and she agreed to Lu Sheng’s suggestion of sharing a pot of tea in a teahouse.

"Did Miss Duanmu go after that prized treasure previously?" Lu Sheng had been able to learn insider information about the great incident in Nine Links City all thanks to Duanmu Wan. Hence, he now hoped to find out more of related intelligence from her, especially in regards to the world she belonged to.

"Yea, that’s right… those who want to find that thing… are many," Duanmu Wan was perceptibly exhausted. Her outfit consisted of a black gauze cloak which covered her entire body. On the hat stand beside them hung her big black conical hat. If Lu Sheng did not look up from below while on the street, he wouldn’t have been able to recognize her.

Lu Sheng glanced at her slender, fair hands. Her sleeves were torn and ripped, with some dried bloodstains on them. Her pants was soiled with some fine yellow mud spots, mud having splashed onto her as she rushed on her journey. Moreover, the dark circles underneath her eyes were a tell-tale sign of insufficient rest.

"You’re really tired," Lu Sheng sighed.

Duanmu Wan nodded, sighing in return. No trace remained of the casual sensuality and flirtatiousness she exhibited on her first meeting with Lu Sheng.

"Some people always think that victory’s in their hands. They refuse to listen to others no matter what they say, and only ever think that they’re in the right. No matter what evidence you find to prove them wrong, it’s all in vain… tell me, are people like that really a pain in the neck?"

Lu Sheng fell silent.

"A pain in the neck indeed."