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He really wasn’t hurt. This shocked Chen Chang Sheng, as he couldn’t understand why; even if he had surmised correctly that the Star Brilliance’s transition into True Essence had also helped to complete his Purification once, it shouldn’t have strengthened his body to this shocking extent, the power behind that stone fragment was considerable.
He extended his hand out of the window, and under the snow-reflected daylight, he carefully examined everything; even though he had maintained a calm demeanour previously, the fact that he had True Essence flowing within his body had managed to captivate all of his attention, only at this moment, had he started to seriously examine his own body.
After a moment, his brow lightly twitched; apart from his physique becoming better toned, and his skin becoming clearer, there were no other discernible differences, but with the entirety of his attention being focused upon examining his body, he could faintly sense that it now possessed something it didn’t before, something akin to a different presence.
He walked before the mirror and found a hairpin; the hairpin was probably left behind by Mo Yu from a few days ago. He picked up the hairpin and looked at its sharp tip, considered for a moment, then proceeded to stab his arm with the tip. He could feel the sensation of the hairpin’s tip coming into contact with his skin and its sharpness, but the sensation was far duller than usual and it didn’t penetrate his skin; the sharp tip hadn’t managed to leave any mark.
He increased the strength with which he stabbed his arm and the pain appropriately increased, but it still couldn’t penetrate his skin; it was as if his skin had undergone some incredible transformation and no matter how much farther in the tip was pushed, he didn’t get the feeling that his skin would be penetrated, akin to a lotus leaf that was sustaining the weight of some dew.
Chen Chang Sheng put down the hairpin and took out his small sword for a test.
After a moment, looking at the thin bloody line upon his left arm, he was certain that his body had undergone some incredible transformation without his knowledge, which increased its strength and toughness immensely; even the most perfect of Purifications recorded within the Scripture of The Way would not have had the same capability as his current state.
What had happened? That question could probably only be answered by Venerable Elder Black Dragon. Chen Chang Sheng felt the faint flow of energy, or presence, that was within his body; he no longer suppressed the feelings of uncertainty he had, nor could he continue supressing the sudden feeling of vigour that beset him, he quickly dressed himself and leapt out of the window.
His shoes touched upon the snow and flattened the underlying foliage, he steadied himself, his expression a little vacuous. His room was on the second floor, and even though the height wasn’t overly tall, and with the body that had been tempered by his Master and Senior, he wouldn’t have hurt himself; but jumping down wasn’t usually this easy or smooth.
He silently considered for a while, through the mist of his breath, he gazed towards the frosty lake within the wintry woods; he wanted to have another test.
Gently bending the knees, exerting strength from the waist, a single step.
A rushing sound abounded.
Upon the snow in front of the dorm, a small furrow appeared; snow and grass scattered into the air.
Chen Chang Sheng’s body disappeared on the spot.
In the next moment, he reappeared besides the lake, a distance of about 30 metres (~100 feet).
Shed leaves started fluttering as the cold wind stirred.
He had a vacant look upon his face that was slightly pale.
He had never expected to possess such a fast speed.
This was all due to the sudden dramatic increase to his strength and toughening of his body.
Where did this energy come from?
Was this really the effect of Purification?
Purification seemed to be the only explanation, but it wasn’t one he could readily accept.
Thinking back upon his earlier bathing, while washing away the coagulated blood into the water, he had felt an odd feeling, this prompted him to suddenly feel uncomfortable.
He traversed the academy walls and left Orthodox Academy, under the cover of snow, he once again arrived at New North Bridge.
The snow was falling as heavily as ever, piling upon the ground in layers.
The two trails of footsteps alongside snow mastiff paw marks that had been left behind near the abandoned well, had long been covered up by the snow.
He observed the surroundings; upon confirming that no one was paying any attention to him and that the palace guards were changing shifts, he leapt into the well.
A thud could be heard as his feet touched ground, surprising him.
He had prepared himself for a long descent and didn’t expect to reach the bottom so shortly after jumping.
The abandoned well was previously bottomless, the chasm-like darkness below led straight into that underground space, to the Black Dragon.
But now, it had a bottom; a bottom composed of soil (loess), covered with a thin layer of snow.
He raised his head to look outside of the well; snowflakes drifting in caused him to squint his eyes.
Squatting down, he gauged the thickness of the accumulated snow, estimating that the well had been sealed for less than half a day.
Tang Thirty-Six took the kitchen knife from Chen Chang Sheng’s hand before staring at him and questioning.
These past few days had been Chen Chang Sheng’s turn to do the cooking; Tang Thirty-Six disliked his cooking, thinking that it was lacking in taste in comparison to Xuan Yuan Po’s, therefore he had come to remind Chang Sheng that pickled pepper stir fry with meat should include pickled peppers, it was at this time that he came in just as Chen Chang Sheng had raised the kitchen knife and was preparing to hack at his own finger.
Chen Chang Sheng knew that he had misunderstood the situation, and said: “Do you think I’m that type of person?”
That type of person? The type that couldn’t handle external pressure, that had to self-mutilate in order to escape reality, or more specifically, the type of person that couldn’t handle external pressure and had thus lost their sanity and only wanted to experience the euphoria of the edge of a blade; or maybe the type of person who couldn’t handle external pressure and would forget the love and care of their parents to leap from the top floor of some building.
“You’re not that type of fool, but I was afraid you might have suddenly decided to be unyielding and remove a finger in order to prove your determination.”
Tang Thirty-Six passed back the kitchen knife and said: “Geniuses that have completed their Purification wouldn’t create this type of misunderstanding.”
Cultivators that had completed Purification would have greatly toughened bodies, wanting to use a regular kitchen knife to cut off a finger wouldn’t be impossible, but would be comparatively difficult.
“The purified aren’t afraid of kitchen knives, yet I don’t see you helping out with slicing the ingredients.” Chen Chang Sheng received the kitchen knife and continued with cutting the radish.
Over the past few days, he had revisited New North Bridge twice, but it had been completely sealed off. Therefore, he could only learn to adjust to the changes of his body; using the kitchen knife to chop at his finger was something he regularly tried; only through getting used to the strength and toughness of his body could he properly make use of it in actual battle.
Tang Thirty-Six’s concern for him was natural, for the Grand Examination was about to commence.
Participants of the Grand Examination had already arrived from all parts of the continent, with countless gazes being directed towards Orthodox Academy, towards Chen Chang Sheng who had declared the intention to place first upon the First Banner. Though the declaration had been made by His Eminence, The Archbishop, and he had never personally acknowledged the declaration, this made no difference for the masses.
Owing to his betrothal with Xu You Rong, the Proclamation of Azure Clouds and that declaration, he was currently extremely well-known and had been ushered to some lofty standing, the problem was, who would actually accede to it? If it wasn’t for Jin Yu Lu sitting on his seat, appreciating the snow while drinking his hot tea, Orthodox Academy’s shattered front gate would have probably been crushed long ago.
The amount of pressure he was currently under did not need elucidating.
“I haven’t been able to understand this, if the tradition faction of the Orthodoxy and those dignitaries loyal to the Imperial Chen line want to use Orthodox Academy’s revival to challenge the Divine Empress’ authority, instead of using someone like you, who hasn’t been able to complete their Purification, wouldn’t I be a better choice?”
Tang Thirty-Six said this while picking up a vegetable leaf and filling it with rice, pickled peppers and vegetables.
Chen Chang Sheng placed the sliced radish into the bone soup that had been simmering for a while, saying: “A small character like me is probably easier to control.”
Tang Thirty-Six daintily took a mouthful of his rice wrap, mumbling out: “I think the most important reason is because of your betrothal to Xu You Rong.”
The youths of Orthodox Academy were aware of their position, therefore they used terms such as “small character”, this type of attitude reflected their indifference to the so-called “great figures”, what these great figures wanted to realise was of no concern to them, they only wanted to continue with their life, enter their Grand Examination, and take their first place upon the First Banner.
Chen Chang Sheng didn’t inform Tang Thirty-Six of the changes to his body, nor did he tell of the Star Brilliance’s transition into True Essence; he had no wish to experience that inferno of despair again.
That plain of snow, for him, had become akin to the age of twenty, it had become a shadow upon his heart that could not be castoff, able to make him panic to the point of gasping for air.
How could he ensure that the snow plain will remain undisturbed? By not disturbing it; by avoiding meditative introspection; by avoiding thoughts of it; better yet, by completely forgetting it. Alas, completely shutting it off in his mind was something hard to achieve, especially when he thought of how the vast snow plain was composed entirely of Star Brilliance; if it were to all transform into True Essence, how much could it produce?
He forlornly said: “The feeling of being wealthy is good.”
“I don’t feel anything,” said Tang Thirty-Six.
“That’s because you’ve had wealth since you were young,” replied Chen Chang Sheng.
“Maybe,” Tang Thirty-Six said, conceding the point after considering for a while.
Chen Chang Sheng continued: “But the feeling of having wealth, yet not being able to spend it, isn’t very good.”
Tang Thirty-Six sympathetically replied: “You’re such a hick, wait till the Grand Examination is over, I’ll teach you how to spend money.”
The snow plain was Chen Chang Sheng’s abundant accruement, but also a fearsome stack of hay, a single spark could set it alight, and upon its transformation into ashes, he would accompany it into oblivion.
Under these circumstances, anyone with some sense would choose to avoid disturbing it, or adding to the hay stack, Chen Chang Sheng thought differently however, continuing to meditate every night and guiding Starlight into his body. With both hands grasping onto the jade crystals provided by Luo Luo and surrounding his body with the crystals sent by the Wen Shui Tang clan, he showed nary a fear in the world.
Others did not know of his body’s current condition, and thus looked upon this scene with a different interpretation; Tang Thirty-Six, who already respected him greatly, thought to himself that anyone else attempting to Purify for such a long time without success would have long given up, for this fellow to persist to this extent, was a testament to his terrifying will.
Though respect is one thing; he longer held any hope of Chen Chang Sheng being able to place first upon the First Banner in the Grand Examination.
Even the most optimistic of people, would share this view.
Therefore… he became increasingly diligent.
The Proclamation of Azure Cloud’s evaluation, alongside Chen Chang Sheng’s example, both of these things were the reason for his diligence, more importantly however, were Chen Chang Sheng to fail in placing first, he would undoubtedly become a figure for the masses to mock; as his friend, as a student of Orthodox Academy, he had to do something.
Xuan Yuan Po was just as diligent. His right arm had fully recovered and under the guidance of Chen Chang Sheng, he was currently practising a discipline art, resulting in great gains to his strength and boundless vigour. This resulted in misery for the great tree by the lake and the hard bluestone was akin to the fragments of ice on the lake’s surface, constantly shattering.
This peaceful school life was suddenly broken one morning by a lone horse-carriage.
At that time, Tang Thirty-Six was in the midst of a squabble with Xuan Yuan Po, while Chen Chang Sheng was amongst the snow, reciting something unfamiliar.