Guan Nian stood outside the door with four men from his Green Squad. Behind them all was a tall middle-aged swordsman who exuded a sharp aura.
"You are…?" Zhang Wuya had been in Martial League for over a decade and could easily recognize all new members. But he had never seen this man before him.
"I’m Xu Chui, the right hand man of Crimson Whale Sect Master Lord Lu Sheng." The man bowed slowly, speaking without arrogance or humbleness.
Without using "it", he would not be a match for this old man in front of him. After all, he had not attained his strength through hard work like these people, and had received his cultivation base from Sect Master through direct impartation. There remained a difference.
Thus, he respected the old man before him deeply.
"Sect Master Lu Sheng!?" Zhang Wuya’s eyes lit up. "Why has he sent you here?"
"Let’s talk inside," Xu Chui whispered.
"Yes yes yes!" Zhang Wuya’s head bobbed up and down.
Guan Nian led his men into the room but left one of them standing guard outside.
After they entered the room and sat down, Xu Chui revealed Lu Sheng’s intentions directly.
The present Martial League was no longer like what it used to be. The League Master was in solitary confinement and did not seem to care. Things in Martial League were not going well and many people were maligned and killed innocently.
Zhang Wuya and the other older members had been waiting for the League Master to come out and restore order. Unfortunately, he remained nowhere to be seen. And now, many in the League had either fled or been killed.
This deeply disappointed him.
"Why the heck should we stay!" Guan Nian exclaimed involuntarily. "I’ve no idea what’s got into that bitc* Zhong Yunxiu, trying to eradicate every spy in the sect. As long as you’re in the least suspect, she won’t let you go! Isn’t that just framing and killing the innocent!?
Damn this Martial League. I’m not staying anymore!"
"And so you’ve brought him here to see us?" Zhang Wuya said softly.
Guan Nian instantly swallowed hard.
"What’s wrong? Can’t I? The mole in my squad was an exception, but Zhong Yunxiu detained two of my men without even a word! What’s she trying to do? Splitting us up?!" His neck turned red.
"It may be a good idea to take refuge outside the League temporarily. We can trust Sect Master Lu, but about Ashoka Manor…" Zhang Wuya hesitated.
"Ashoka Manor has just lost two Officiators. They haven’t got enough time for themselves, how can they bother about us?" Guan Nian said without concern.
Zhang Wuya traded glances with the old woman. Both of them sighed inwardly.
‘Precisely because they suffered severe losses, they would suspect us all the more now! The situation may take a turn for the worse…’
"But if it’s Sect Master Lu, there wouldn’t be a problem at all. We can go take refuge in Crimson Whale Sect indeed." Zhang Wuya decided that the plan could work after some thought.
Just by the fact that Lu Sheng had killed four Emissaries from Ashoka Manor, he already had a feud with Ashoka Manor, not to mention that Lu Sheng was Li Shunxi’s good pal. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. They would definitely be safe there.
"My Sect Master has come originally to trade for some martial arts manuals. But we didn’t expect to run into such a scene. Since Elder and Captain Guan are familiar with us, it may be a good idea for you to leave with us to wait out the trouble," Xu Chui said.
"Give us a moment to consider again…" Zhang Wuya frowned. He was wise in the ways of the world and was skeptical that Lu Sheng would really send his man here just to take them into refuge. Probably Lu Sheng was moved by his stash of secret manuals and all the resources Martial League owned. They might not be grain, but they were worth something.
"Consider my balls! Let’s hurry and go!" Guan Nian was impatient indeed. He of all people knew how chaotic Martial League had become. People’s loyalty had faded, and the rift between the mortal Divine Prime experts and Noblemen was widening. If things were to go on like this, something really bad was bound to happen.
"What will happen to the rest if we go?" Zhang Wuya asked solemnly.
"Our Sect Master’s intention is the more that comes with us, the merrier," Xu Chui replied earnestly. "But of course, we need Captain Guan to identify the trustworthy Noblemen."
At those words, Zhang Wuya and Guan Nian’s jaws hung loose in dumb shock.
‘That’s basically emptying the entire Martial League!’
Lu Sheng entered the solitary confinement sanctuary light-footed.
The waterfall outside the window crashed straight into the lake, splashing drops and mists of water into the room every now and then.
Only a gray round mat and a short table with an incense pot on it lay in the entire sanctuary. Some water and dishes had also been placed on the table.
Lu Sheng looked at the mouldy food. It was untouched; clearly, it had been left here for a long time.
The sanctuary was empty. The League Master who was supposedly in solitary confinement was nowhere to be seen. Who knew where he had gone.
"Qin Wumian?" He surveyed the entire sanctuary with narrowed eyes. Apart from a mouldy smell, there was also a faint trace of the raw scent of blood in the air.
But none of these were his business. He had entered the sanctuary only to make contact with this League Master of Martial League to see if there was any possibility of taking him into his service. Unexpectedly, however, that was all that was in sight.
‘This Martial League League Master seems very mysterious…’ finding nothing in the room, Lu Sheng had no choice but to leave.
Once out of the tower, he moved with astonishing speed along the blind spots of the place. When it was impossible to evade detection, he would simply knock sentries out with one blow.
Under his speed and force, he quickly returned to the courtyard he had been in just moments ago.
Zhong Yunxiu and two other ladies were waiting there for him.
At the sight of Lu Sheng, the three of them broke into joy.
"Sect Master Lu! What’s going on in there?!" Zhong Yunxiu asked hurriedly.
Lu Sheng shook his head. "The League Master isn’t in the sanctuary at all."
"I knew it!" Zhang Yunxiu’s face lurched. She was different from that blundering Guan Nian. Ever since Li Shunxi’s incident, she had been increasingly suspicious of whether or not the League Master was really still here.
The only reason why she kept opposing Guan Nian was merely to mask and hide her true intentions.
"Since Sect Master has invited us, it’s unwise and inappropriate to stay in the League any further, especially given the situation now, as you can see. But… if we joined Crimson Whale Sect, wouldn’t it draw Ashoka Manor’s attention to you?" Zhong Yunxiu asked with a frown. She was much more careful and thorough than Guan Nian.
"There’s no need to worry about that. I’ve prepared plenty of grain in another place. You can all go and hide in wait there first instead of returning to Crimson Whale Sect with me," Lu Sheng said simply.
"In that case, we’ll trouble you, Sect Master," Zhong Yunxiu nodded after some deliberation.
"How many do you intend to bring along?" Lu Sheng asked in a whisper.
"Just my two sisters and me. None of the rest are trustworthy." Zhong Yunxiu shook her head. "I’ve discovered that apart from Ashoka Manor’s mole, there’s another force hidden in the League. It’s no longer possible for us to tell apart who’s trustworthy and who’s not."
"A while ago, somebody discovered the bird poop of a Red Letter Pidgeon—the kind used to transmit messages—outside the valley. Somebody’s been communicating with someone on the outside," one of the ladies interrupted.
To be honest, Lu Sheng would not reject anyone. He welcomed all as long as they were strong. Yin Crane Web could resolve all issues.
But he was in a rush now and could not afford to take too many with him. Things would get troublesome if Scarlet District Mistress were to get here before he could leave. Hence, he needed to bring those in the know out of this place and into hiding as soon as possible.
"Alright then. I’ve sent my man to contact Guan Nian and Zhang Wuya’s company. In a while, we’ll leave together."
"We’ll comply with all your arrangements, Sect Master." Zhong Yunxiu cupped his fists.
"Thank you," Lu Sheng smiled. "But before that, I need to personally perform a check. I’ve got a way of determining if there’re any traitors or moles among us."
"Oh?!" Zhong Yunxiu and her company were shocked.
"Time is short. And it consumes my inner force. So I can only use it on very few people," Lu Sheng added.
"And are you certain of the results, Sect Master?!" Zhong Yunxiu was immediately solemn.
"Eighty percent certain."
"That's sufficient!" Zhong Yunxiu clapped her hands. "If possible, please check us now."
"Of course," Lu Sheng smiled warmly. Some Yin Yang Jade Crane Aquarius Qi swiftly gathered at his fingertip.
"Just one touch is all I need." He extended his finger towards Zhong Yunxiu's forehead.
She was a Double-Vein Noblewoman—perfect for testing if Aquarius Qi can form a Yin Crane Web.
If it worked, then it would not activate as long as Zhong Yunxiu did not betray him. But if any 'mishap' were to happen, this would be his failsafe.
He touched Zhong Yunxiu's forehead with his fingertip. A trace of Aquarius Qi shot into her.
Instantly, her black membrane appeared and fought the Aquarius Qi. In a burst, they both vanished.
Zhong Yunxiu retreated several paces as her face lurched. She stared at Lu Sheng.
"This thing’s is harmful to me! What's the meaning of this, Sect Master Lu!?"
"Oh... looks like it can't penetrate black membrane..." A trace of disappointment crept up in Lu Sheng's eyes. "It's just a method to test one's loyalty. Don't tell me just a tinge of this aura could put you in danger?"
Zhong Yunxiu hesitated. A moment ago, she clearly felt a keen threat and blocked it with her black membrane by reflex and pulled away.
"Regardless, Sect Master had better keep this method for your own use. When do we leave?"
"Anytime now," Lu Sheng's face turned into one of regret for a lost opportunity. He put down his hand.
Under Zhong Yunxiu's concealment, they met up with Guan Nian and Zhang Wuya at that very night. In total, there were about two dozens of them. Carrying all sorts of luggage and manuals, they left Martial League silently, leaving behind some members of the League whose loyalty was suspected.
Deep in the night, a tall figure stepped out from the shadows outside Martial League.
Scarlet District Mistress stood on the cliff and surveyed the silver tower beneath her. Beside her was umbrella girl and a few wandering ghosts.
"So this is Martial League? Rather pretty place, I must say."
"How... do we... investigate?" umbrella girl asked softly.
"Charge in directly. Kill those who refuse to speak." Scarlet District Mistress leapt forward without waiting for umbrella girl's reply. Like a bird, she flew and pounced at the tower under the cliff.
"Who's there!? How dare you trespass into Martial League!"
Several green figures shot towards her, armed with steel forks, long sabers, and long swords. These were the Noblemen on sentry in the League.
But at the sight of Scarlet District Mistress while she was still in mid-air, their faces were drained of color. They abandoned their weapons, turned and tried to flee. Clearly, they had recognized her identity.
A large pit, several meters in diameter, was smashed into the ground before the tower.
Slowly, Scarlet District Mistress rose up from the pit.