"About this, my Tea Sect can help a little." Dong Qi hurriedly stepped forward to offer assistance.
"Indeed. Tea Sect has deep connections here. Both their network and intelligence sources are certainly better than ours. With Sect Master Dong Qi here, it shouldn't be long before we find that person," Li Qiong confirmed.
"We'll leave that to you then. Let's rest for a night. Tomorrow, we'll go see what on earth this supposed Unlaughing Master really is," Lu Sheng said relaxedly.
"Yes, sir," everyone acknowledged.
Under the arrangement of Tea Sect, everyone found their quarters and went to rest. Dong Qi prepared an extravagantly lavish banquet, featuring all sorts of dishes with 'tea' as their main theme. The company from Crimson Whale Sect ate with gusto.
Lu Sheng and little umbrella girl however were not interested in the food and went back to their room earlier to rest.
In the polished bedroom, Lu Sheng half lay on his bed, toying with a piece of uneven, fist-sized metal. It seemed to have been broken off some object, and fine patterns and motifs could be seen on it.
The small piece of metal spun in Lu Sheng's hand, releasing a pale red hue.
'Unlike that previous piece of metal, this Scarlet Dragon Tribulation shard has no Yin Qi…' Lu Sheng was puzzled.
Without Yin Qi, it was simply a piece of scrap metal to him.
Toying with the shard casually in his hand, he recalled the explosive power that Hongfang Bai had used.
Grasping the shard in his hand was like holding a lump of flesh. Some inexplicable, malicious chanting seemed to emanate from within.
The voice would linger about his ears but it took great effort to listen to it. After some time, without any new discoveries, Lu Sheng tied it with a string again and hung it back around his neck.
He had tried all sorts of means but failed to activate the power of the Scarlet Dragon Tribulation shard. They included pouring inner Qi into it, and exposing it to high temperature and chilly frost—all without any effect.
This thing felt like an ordinary stone, but was clearly metallic to the touch.
A silent night passed. Early the next day, the company of Crimson Whale Sect disciples headed to the mountains that Chen Zongtao and Elder Xu had gone into previously, Lu Sheng in their midst.
The path was uneven and they had to change from riding in carriage to walking on foot and riding in sedan. Lu Sheng had left umbrella girl back in Tea Sect, entering the deep mountains with Xu Chui and the rest, following the lead of Chen Zongtao.
Having left Tea Town, they quickly found the spot where Chen Zongtao and Elder Xu had previously stopped on a desolate mountain.
The sun was pale through the shaking branches of the trees.
The Crimson Whale Sect company quickly ascended to a grass-covered plateau.
"This is the spot!!" a disciple under Chen Zongtao's command yelled out, panting between breaths. "We even left marks on tree bark so that we wouldn't get lost at night!"
He jogged to a large tree and tore away a piece of bark. A fish-shaped carving lay under the bark. It was Crimson Whale Sect's symbol.
Suddenly, the sound of a broken twig nearby broke the silence.
"Someone's there!" a disciple growled suddenly.
"Who's there!?" a disciple on sentry shouted.
Xu Chui and Ning San stood protectively to the left and right of the sedan. At the sound, their gazes immediately shot to the same direction in the woods.
More than ten disciples began dispersing into the surroundings, conducting a search.
One of them cleaved a bush in half with a saber, instantly revealing a person who popped up.
"Don't! Don't get nervous… we're just passing by, just passing by!" A decent looking Taoist with a long beard hurriedly jumped out from behind the bushes.
Behind him, a man and woman, also dressed in Taoist robes, stepped out slowly.
The man's features were handsome and neat and exuded an aura of unalloyed righteousness; he was Yan Kai, who had just gotten here.
The woman was svelte and pretty; naturally, she was Duan Rongrong, who was always by his side.
Yan Kai glanced at the Crimson Whale Sect symbol under the parted tree bark, and surveyed the ring of disciples dispersed around him.
The two men guarding the sides of the sedan exuded an aura that made his hair stand on ends. They were absolutely not to be trifled with.
Inwardly, he exclaimed, 'They deserve their name as the Number One Sect in the Northern Lands indeed. Just any two random characters make me feel so wary of them.'
Tidying up his thoughts, he stepped forward and cupped his fists together.
"This humble man is Yan Kai. I'm an old acquaintance of Sect Master Lu. I seek an audience with Sect Master Lu regarding a special matter. May I please trouble you to pass on the message."
The three of them stood still and waited as some disciples exchanged glances with each other. Silently, they surrounded the three of them before one among them headed towards the sedan.
Yan Kai watched as the disciple first whispered in the ear of one of the two men standing guard beside the sedan, who thought for a moment. Then, the man stepped to the window of the sedan and whispered through it.
And then, he seemed to have gotten his instructions and relayed them to the disciple.
"Come over," the disciple shouted.
A path opened up slowly for the trio including Yan Kai.
The three of them surveyed their surroundings, only to see that each disciple of the Crimson Whale Sect looked solemn and stood with sharp bearing and posture. They brimmed with energy and vigor. One look at them told Yan Kai that any random person pulled out from among them was a match for more than ten members of an ordinary sect.
As the three of them passed through, they could feel their gazes burning into them like needles, warning them.
'An army of tigers!' Yan Kai evaluated, alarmed. Before long, he was standing before the sedan.
The veil parted gently to reveal a familiar young person who had not changed much. It was the eldest young master of Lu Family—Lu Sheng.
Lu Sheng sat in the sedan like an ordinary wealthy young master, his face slightly pale and skin clearly unexposed to the sun. Loose-fitting black robes covered his body, with a soaring golden crane embroidered on his chest.
"So it's Mister Yan Kai!" Lu Sheng smiled at the three of them. "When we parted ways back then, I didn't expect that we would meet again here. What a coincidence."
Yan Kai narrowed his eyes at Lu Sheng who stood before him like an ordinary mortal. Just like when he had first met him, Lu Sheng looked like he had no power at all; he seemed every bit like that weak young master who had been troubled by ghosts.
For some inexplicable reason, however, his heart lurched at the first moment when his eyes locked onto Lu Sheng. A piercing coldness pressed against his heart.
On the surface, he couldn't sense an ounce of power in Lu Sheng. Yet Yan Kai felt an extremely grave pressure when he faced Lu Sheng. It was a pressure that suffocated him, even causing his body to tingle with numbness.
He heard Duan Rongrong's rapid breathing beside him. Duan Rongrong had an ability to sense danger that was more acute than his. Without a doubt, she was experiencing that pressure many times more heavily than he was.
That intense, indescribable pressure silenced the three of them. Even merely standing in front of Lu Sheng took great courage and grit.
"What powerful senses," Lu Sheng exclaimed in surprise, just as the trio including Yan Kai were breaking out in sweat, their heartbeats accelerating.
Finally, Lu Sheng lifted that heavy pressure from his aura.
Duan Rongrong's knees immediately buckled, almost collapsing on the ground—had it not been for Yan Kai who held her up, that is.
The three of them exchanged glances among themselves, relieved. They had come to the right person this time!
Ever since learning that his Senior Apprentice Brother Wan Hezi took up Dugu Family's offer of reward, Yan Kai had been thinking hard about a way out of the knot.
Dugu Family was not to be trifled with. Compared to them, his branch of exorcists was so weak that they could easily wipe out hundreds of them.
In other words, since his senior apprentice brother had taken up the deal, they had no choice but to complete their investigation thoroughly.
There was only one requirement in the contents of the offer: to investigate the agenda of Chao Long, the Deputy Society Leader of Wandering Heart Society.
Dugu Family And Wandering Heart Society were rival factions. Hence, this offer of reward was natural and within expectation. Originally, Wan Hezi thought that it should be within his abilities to track Chao Long secretly then sneak a peek at what he was up to when the opportunity presented itself, given his bloodline ability.
But Yan Kai immediately rejected his plan. Dugu Family would never offer such a handsome reward for such an easy job.
He made Wan Hezi spell out the contents of the deal completely. As he had guessed, they were not only supposed to simply figure out Chao Long's agenda, they also needed to find out details like the team he brought with him, his present status, and the arrangements he made to accomplish his objective.
With all that, the difficulty of the mission was immediately raised to "insane mode". And if they tried to cheat their way through, the only outcome awaiting them was that his Senior Apprentice Brother Wan Hezi would become fuel for Dugu Family's furnace.
After racking his brains through, Yan Kai could come up with only one way out that would maximize the probability of getting the kind of intelligence they needed.
That was to borrow the strength of others!
And presently, the only faction in Tea Town capable of going up against Chao Long was Crimson Whale Sect.
Unlike Chao Long's covert infiltration, Crimson Whale Sect had entered the town in broad daylight, complete with all that pomp. Wan Hezi had followed Chao Long all the way into town with no discoveries, except for the knowledge that he had come because of the legend of the Unlaughing Master.
At the same time, some Crimson Whale Sect experts had disappeared because of the legend as well. This meant that the two parties overlapped and it gave Yan Kai room to maneuver.
"I wonder what brings Mister Yan Kai to these desolate mountains?" Lu Sheng sized up Yan Kai and Duan Rongrong.
Compared to back when they had first met in Nine Links City, the two of them had not changed much, except that they had visibly matured. As for the third person accompanying them, Lu Sheng automatically filtered him out.
"What Young Master Sheng has come for is the same reason why we're here," Yan Kai said. "But we came slightly earlier than Young Master Sheng." Deliberately, he retained the term of address he had used for Lu Sheng in the past in order to narrow the distance between them. After all, he did lend a big helping hand to Lu Sheng back then. Had it not been for him, Yan Kai, Lu Sheng's sister Lu Qingqing might never have been found.
"Oh?" Lu Sheng looked surprised. "Could it be that Mister Yan Kai possesses some other leads? Can you share them with me? Be it for money or anything else, Mister only has to ask."
Yan Kai shook his head as he cast a glance at Duan Rongrong and Wan Hezi. The former was hiding behind him because of her overly acute senses, while the latter was shivering all over purely out of his timidity. It looked like neither of them could be counted on; he could only depend on himself.
But seeing that Lu Sheng treated him peaceably and remembered his old favor to him, he saw a glimmer of hope.
"To be frank, Young Master Sheng, we've come in pursuit of a dangerous character who has come here from another region," Yan Kai explained. "My senior apprentice brother, Wan Hezi, took on a deal to investigate this character and has tracked him all the way here from the East. Little did we expect that you have come specially to this little town because of the Unlaughing legend as well."