Chapter 7: Meeting (1)
Translator: Deep_Blue Editor: Kurisu
“I’ll certainly arrange it. But…”
Fatso was put on a spot. ‘What kind of people attend the Black Meeting? Murderers, robbers, burglars, thieves, people with shady backgrounds! If Brother Sheng accidentally got embroiled in a conflict and got hurt, that’d be really unfortunate.’
“But I better keep a low profile, right?” Lu Sheng smiled. He understood his concern.
He was representing not merely himself, but also Nine Links City’s Lu family. Once any mishap happened to him, the Lu Manor would settle scores with Zheng Xiangui for sure.
“It’s best that you understand it. Brother Sheng, your identity isn’t like anyone else’s. If it were anyone else, I wouldn’t be so worried…” Zheng Xiangui sighed.
“I got it. Just make the arrangements. I must lay my hands on that thing,” Lu Sheng insisted.
“Sigh…” Zheng Xiangui sighed helplessly as he complied.
Lu Sheng confirmed the starting time of the Black Meeting with him carefully. Then, he waited while Zheng Xiangui instructed someone to bring over a VIP invitation.
With the invitation in hand, he finally left the restaurant.
“High-grade cosmetic powder! Ladies, come and take a look!”
“High quality first-grade products from the Central Plains, just imported from Zi Hua City!”
“Blusher that’s exclusively from Purple Sun & Floral Scent. You can’t find it anywhere else!”
On the streets outside the restaurant, hawkers pushed their wooden carts laden with cosmetic powders, inching along the sides of the streets.
Lu Sheng’s glance swept over them. The street in front of him specialized in selling cosmetic products. Many women and ladies loved to shop here.
A light rain had just fallen on the street, leaving a wet layer on it. The rays of the setting sun reflected off them, dyeing the entire street into a faint red hue.
Lu Sheng breathed out. The moment his breath left his mouth, it condensed into white mist which dispersed gradually.
He turned back to look at the restaurant. The Goldfish Restaurant cast a giant shadow under the sun.
This was the largest restaurant in Nine Links City and it happened to be its peak hours. Customers streamed in and out of the restaurant incessantly, creating an unusual commotion and din.
Standing in the shadow of the restaurant, Lu Sheng looked towards both its sides.
Other places were rather neglected.
Hawkers inched along, pushing their carts with cosmetic goods, moving without stopping in the shade.
As Lu Sheng watched on, he thought of buying some gifts for second mother and Yiyi. These cosmetic powders weren’t expensive, and sometimes one could find quality goods that’d serve as fine gifts.
He strolled along the streets, trying to pick a good hawker.
As the afternoon went on, the streets grew increasingly deserted and many shops closed for the day.
The number of people on both sides of the street shrank to just a few. Lu Sheng met them only occasionally.
The strange thing was that these hawkers selling cosmetic goods could clearly see that there weren’t many people around them, and yet they still smiled and hawked their goods with great effort.
Hawking yells rose and fell here and there, reverberating across the big empty street.
Lu Sheng’s eyes narrowed, but didn’t think that anything was amiss. ‘Perhaps this is a custom or phenomenon unique to this world.’
Glancing from left to right, he finally picked a hawker pushing a cart painted in light red. A pole was attached to the cart, and a flag on it that read: “Central Plains’ Li’s Cosmetic Goods”.
The hawker moved along slowly, pushing his cart, with a big smile on his face. He was clad in a grey linen robe and a greyish white melon peel cap.
‘I think Li’s Cosmetic Goods is quite an established business from the Central Plains.’
Lu Sheng recalled from his memory and slowly headed towards the hawker, intending to pick some quality cosmetic powder for second mother and Yiyi.
The hawker gradually moved forward. Near him, a few kids were having fun, chasing each other and playing.
The cart went past the children, then turned into a small alley in the shadows.
Lu Sheng guessed that the hawker was probably about to call it a day. So, he hastened his steps, going after him.
“Ai! Brother Sheng!”
Suddenly, a voice called from behind him. It was a pretty familiar voice, as if from someone he knew.
Lu Sheng turned around to see a tanned, muscular scholar walk towards him in big strides.
“Luo Sheng?” 
He hesitated for a moment before recognizing him.
Luo Sheng, aka Luo Junyi, was a classic rich young master in Nine Links City, just like Lu Sheng. But, unlike others, this lad possessed an actual academic degree; he had just passed the prefectural level exam recently and became a xiucai. News was that he had quite the literary flair. 
Actually, Luo Junyi had a very ordinary friendship with him. It just so happened that his name coincided with that of a Mount Liang hero, hence Lu Sheng remembered his name after hearing it once.
“Brother Sheng, it’s an emergency, an emergency!” Loo Junyi took two steps towards him, red-faced.
Lu Sheng immediately understood why this dude came looking for him. Although he was a young master of a rich family, he extremely loved gambling and often gambled to his last penny, winding up borrowing money from all over the place.
It looked like he had depleted his gambling capital again.
Lu Sheng laughed as he took out ten talents of silver from his waist pouch and handed them over.
“How’s your luck today?”
“Acceptable, acceptable, hahaha… I knew I could count on Brother Sheng,” Luo Junyi took the silver and left hurriedly.
Lu Sheng shook his head. The money was a small matter. Lu family’s business and estate was enormous after all. Somebody would come handing over money just around the corner.
He turned to find the hawker selling cosmetic goods again.
The hawker’s cart had already entered the alley, leaving only a small half of it outside.
With great strides, he swiftly walked over and followed it into the alley.
Lu Sheng froze in his tracks. This was an alley with a dead end!
The alley was empty, without a hawker, a cart or any living soul to be found.
His eyes both narrowed to a slit and his body became poised and alert.
From beginning to end, left to right, he carefully examined this blind alley.
It was an alley over ten meters long, formed by the greyish black walls of the houses on both sides. At its end, it was blocked by an aged black wall, with a few seals glued across it.
The seals of made of white paper and red letters looked dark under the sunset. Their corners flew up, having lost their adhesiveness.
“No trapdoors on the walls… where could the cart have gone…?”
Lu Sheng kept searching his memory. He clearly remembered that the cart had entered this alley between the houses.
He backed out of it and saw the few children who were still playing and chasing one another. These kids wore simple clothes and seemed to come from ordinary families.
Lu Sheng plastered on a smiley face and fished out a few bronze coins from his pocket. He caught a little girl who was giving chase.
“Little girl, can I ask you something?”
“What do you want to ask, brother? Please ask.”
The little girl sported two ponytails and was nine or ten years-old, her cheeks red and puffy. Perhaps because she was used to playing on the streets, she was unafraid of strangers and replied straightforwardly.
“Brother would like to ask – did you see that Li’s Cosmetic Goods cart pass by here just now? Did it enter this alley here?”
Lu Sheng stuffed two bronze coins into the little girl’s palms. A radiant smile immediately broke out on the little girl’s face.
“I didn’t see any cosmetic goods cart, did I? We play here every day. The cosmetic goods carts usually come only in the morning. In the afternoon, they all go over to the antique street.”
“You didn’t see it?” Lu Sheng was stunned. He felt that the kid was lying.
But then he saw the earnest expression on the little girl’s wide-eyed face.
“What I said is true. There really weren’t any carts on the streets today. If you don’t believe me, you can go ask others. There’s nothing at all on the streets,” the rest of the children ran over and voiced their assent.
“Yea yea. My mum was even gonna come over to get some stuff, but not even one cart could be seen. It’s really strange.”
“This brother says he just saw a Li’s Cosmetic Goods,” the little girl pointed at Lu Sheng.
“I don’t see it. That’s all that there is to this street.”
“Brother probably saw it in his dreams? Heeheehee…”
The group of lads broke out in laughter and din again.
The smile on Lu Sheng’s face gradually vanished. He turned his head to look at the Goldfish Restaurant.
The restaurant under the shadow was crowded with business. Its extraordinary liveliness of was in stark contrast to the desertedness of the streets here.
“In that case, did you all see…”
Lu Sheng turned back and his voice froze.
The kids around him had all disappeared god-knows-when. All around him, the street was deserted, empty and devoid of anything.
Without so much as a single passer-by.
The commotion and din of the children had vanished. Logically speaking, it was impossible for children of that age to all instantly disappear without a sound like that.
Lu Sheng was confident in himself. He was, after all, trained in the Black Tiger Saber and could even detect the position of wild wolves just by listening to the wind. And yet, he did not even hear the sound of the children leaving.
Staring at the desolate and deathly street, a chill went down his spine. He quickly walked towards the Goldfish Restaurant.
The sounds of his footsteps rang clearer than usual. The more he approached the restaurant, the more he felt a warm sensation on his entire body.
All of a sudden, as if he had just broken through the water surface, Lu Sheng felt everything come to life around him, brimming with life and energy.
One by one, warm-bodied customers passed by beside him. One of them accidentally knocked into him and hurried to apologize.
Ladies were alighting from horse carriages, smiling as they walked slowly into the restaurant and were led in by waiters.
Standing before the restaurant, Lu Sheng looked back on the street selling cosmetic goods again. Without knowing when, it was now filled with some passers-by who weren’t there previously.
It was worlds apart from the desertedness before.
Lu Sheng sucked in a mouthful of cold air and swiftly hailed a horse carriage.
“To the Lu Manor!”
“Alrighty, please sit tight!”
With a whip from the carriage driver, a skinny old horse slowly moved its hooves.
Seated on the carriage, Lu Sheng’s mind was occupied by what he had encountered.
The hawker, the group of children… they were all very abnormal.
‘Thinking about it now, the smile on the hawker’s face didn’t move a single inch. It felt extremely fake.’
His thoughts led towards the terrible Xu family case and, suddenly, the sense of an impending disaster washed over him.
“This city is really getting more and more dangerous…” he mumbled.
The horse carriage pulled up shortly outside the Lu Manor gates. Upon seeing Lu Sheng in the carriage, the gatekeeper hurried over.
“Young Master, you’ve returned?”
The gatekeeper was surnamed Wang and was the eighth oldest among his siblings. Everybody usually called him Little Eight. He was a smart lad and had only turned seventeen this year. He inherited his father’s job as the gatekeeper of Lu Manor.
Little Eight was pretty familiar with Lu Sheng and would often recount the strange rumors and hearsay flying around in and out of the city to him.
Those were also what Lu Sheng loved to hear.
“Is the Old Master in?” Lu Sheng asked casually after alighting and paying.
“Old Master went to the yamen again. The Prefect summoned him. To find something, it seems,” Little Eight smiled.
Lu Sheng had been busy with his own matters the past few days and neglected the happenings at home.