“I shall become a farmer, Senior Brother.”
Those were the words Lu Ri had once more structured his search around. After his wonderful meal in Pale Moon Lake City, he had decided to continue to scour the Azure Hills until he found a lead. He had a feeling about this province. A hunch told him he was missing something, and so he would follow it. It could be the heavens guiding him, for long he had toiled already. It had been merely a few months, so it was not too desperate of a search quite yet, but he still wished to properly complete this task. To that end, once he was ready to resume his task, he delved deep into what was known as the Grass Sea. A grand name for three thousand li of rolling hills and grasslands.
It was in this area where most of the population of the Azure Hills lived. Prime land for farming, and it had some amount of ambient Qi, which gave birth to the petty Sects that grew here. Like weeds clinging to the side of a desolate mountain. Stunted in their growth, and utterly unnoticable in their power. He had heard a boastful tale of an Elder reaching the second stage of the Profound Realm, and how he was sure to make his sect rise with such a feat.
Lu Ri kept his peace, and his Qi suppressed.
At the same time as he scoured the Grass Sea himself, he deployed the Cloudy Sword Sect’s resources. When he thought he would have to spend more coin, he thought of the normal prices of Raging Waterfall Gorge, or perhaps the Howling Fang Mountains.
In this case, however, it was certainly no drain on his resources. But one did get what they paid for.
There were no normal organisations, like the Twelve Shadow Moons, here. The secret information brokering organizations that kept their hands on the pulse of the world. Even those had left this place behind.
Thus, Lu Ri had to hire a multitude of more independent groups..
There were a few hiccups. He had gotten three reports of himself, and the incident that had shattered the Heavenly Ascension Stone pendants.
But Lu Ri had learned the teachings of the Founders well, and was himself a man used to organizing disciples into more coherent forces.
One swift reorganisation later, and they were functioning quite a bit better, without any trace of the Cloudy Sword Sect’s involvement. Indeed, these men argued quite a bit less, and few dared to even raise objections as he dismantled their inefficient framework.
He quite enjoyed himself. To take such worthless systems, and recreate them as the Founders had described a properly functioning organization, was quite heady.
The other reports occasionally provided some false starts. There was a man with a hammer, who looked roughly like the description given for Jin Rou, but it was later revealed that he was the Young Master of the Hermetic Iron Sect, a sect of less than ten members up in the north-east. It was a constant game of going back and forth. Venturing into the Grass Sea, and returning to Grass Sea City; collecting his reports, and then venturing out again.
Lu Ri was getting increasingly efficient at sorting through mortals and records.
When he returned again to his base of operations his men were waiting with triumphant smiles.
Lu Ri raised an eyebrow as they bowed in unison, sinking down to a knee.
“We have a report, Master Scribe,” the man declared, using Lu Ri’s assumed title for this group. “This one is truly unusual.”
Lu Ri gestured at him to continue.
“I was lucky to receive this. A merchant from the Howling Fang Mountains recently visited the Misty Lake Sect, with a delivery of Mist Blossoms. Extremely expensive. He was deep in his cups, and gossipping like a hen, when he let slip something that was merely idle conversation. He mentioned that there was a rumour that one of the Young Masters of the Shrouded Mountain had been confined to the mountain for some reason or another. Useless… if not for something else.”
At this, he gestured to one of his comrades, who bowed as well. “Last year, one of my men from our previous organisation intercepted a transmission. Priority from a village in the north. Someone had been attempting to impersonate members of the Shrouded Mountain Sect, and was defeated. Specifically, a Young Master of the Shrouded Mountain.”
Lu Ri’s eyes widened, as the pieces came together. The Shrouded Mountain was beyond anything in the Azure Hills. They had some accolades to their name, though they were minor in comparison to the Cloudy Sword’s.
Could… Could this be it?
“Do you have a name?” he asked.
“Verdant Hill, Master Scribe. It will take us a month or two to get everything set up there and confirm things.”
Slowly, a smile spread across Lu Ri’s face. Could this be what he was looking for?
He thought immediately of heading to Verdant Hill himself, yet stayed his first reaction. The two pieces of evidence were quite interesting on their own, but they were no guarantee.
It was a conundrum. Should he continue his search here? Should he travel up to Verdant Hill immediately? Or should he confirm the rumour in the Howling Fang Mountain?
Lu Ri pondered for a moment, and made his decision.
“Send your best. I will head to Howling Fang Mountain,” he decided, and turned back to his men. “I shall give to you a powerful transmission stone for this search. Contact me when all is ready.”
“Yes, Master Scribe!”
Lu Ri nodded. “Your Master thanks you for your diligence,” he declared. “It shall be rewarded.” He brought from his sleeves their payment, and the men’s eyes widened.
“We live to serve our Master Scribe!” the men shouted, once more lowering their heads. “Glory to the Plum Blossom’s Shadow Organization!”
Time to see if there was anything in the mountains, again. The rest of his organization would be tasked to continue his work here.
His men left, swiftly going about their tasks, and Lu Ri frowned at his still dark transmission stone, given to him by Elder Ge.
He hoped his Elder was having more luck than he. Though his superior did not need luck. He had skill.
Xiao Ge hoped Lu Ri was having luck in his search. Or more luck than he, at least.
Indeed, it was lucky to not cross Shen Yu’s path when he was angry. A far cry from the look of joy, before he heard the news. He thought his brother would be joining him on campaign, not delivering this manner of message.
Brother Shen Yu’s face was carved from stone. He did not scream. He did not rage. His fury was the silent kind. Cold and intense.
“Were our bonds any less deep, Ge, I would be trying to kill you right now. Be grateful our brotherhood extends this far.” His voice was deceptively calm.
“Indeed,” Ge stated. “What has been done is unforgivable. For a child entrusted to us by our Brother to be treated in such a way through our own negligence is grounds for our blades to cross.”
“…and that is the second reason. Brother Ge, ever ready to take responsibility.” The two men stared at each other. The air was thick with the scent of death, the corpses of the demons already beginning to foul under the heat of the sun.
“What happened to the Cloudy Sword?” Shen Yu sighed. “What happened to the Young Masters who raised the peasant boys, simply because they had talent?”
The disappointment and wistfulness hurt more than any anger ever could.
“The one who initiated the conflict awaits whatever judgement you shall declare. His father bows his head in acceptance, and our Brother Ran has returned, to make sure that head stays bowed.”
Shen Yu turned his head to the heavens, and closed his eyes. “As much as my heart screams for vengeance, I will content myself with this offering, as it is made in good faith, and with humility. I have no wish to cross blades with you in anger.”
Ge bowed his head. “Nor do I, Brother.”
“…Am I ever to be without a legacy?” Shen Yu finally asked, the cold expression finally dropping, simply leaving a man who looked drained.
Ge frowned. “We have a man searching day and night. We will find him, Brother. Broken things may yet be reforged stronger than ever.”
Shen Yu considered his words. “Yes… Yes. From what I have heard, he is not yet too far gone.”
The man’s eyes opened, and his Qi flared.
“Brother. I tire of this distraction. I tire of Tou Le’s careful strategies. I tire of that Bastard eating up my time. The time for restraint is over.”
The air became solid. Shen Yu’s intent flooded the mountain, and every demonic corpse screamed, withering and disintegrating. His power grew, like a gathering storm.
“Restraint? Rationing of power? What is losing a mere Ten Years of Cultivation?” he asked, his eyes shining like miniature stars.
Elder Ge smiled and rose, releasing his own intent. His hands clasped in front of him. The clouds descended from the heavens, a thousand ravening black maws.
“Spear or Shield, the Black Clouds of the Silent Sky will smite all who dare impede your path.”