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The Mausoleum of Books was located in the Capital and the Capital was the heart of the Zhou Empire, the heart of humanity’s realm; perhaps, even the heart of the entire continent.
Only through the Grand Examination or those few with special privileges, had the right to enter the Mausoleum and contemplate The Way. Thus, the Grand Examination was the world’s most important event, more so than the Grand Meeting of Zhu Shi that happened once every three or five years.
This year’s Grand Examination was being held at Li Palace as usual; early morning, before the stone pillars of Li Palace, there was already a gathering of the masses numbering in the thousands and above.
Peddlers were selling snacks such as nuts, seeds and fruit; baked goods and meat; and some were even selling benches. Under careful observation however, you would notice that peddlers selling water were the most numerous.
Citizens of the Capital could spectate the Grand Examination every year and were used to its schedule, most of them were currently home, while the masses currently gathered here were from various parts of the continent and solely here for merriment, one could only imagine how things would look once the Grand Examination properly started; with everyone congregated outside of Li Palace, that scene would be extremely festive.
Students that were participating in the Grand Examination had arrived earlier than the spectators. Before the stone pillars of Li Palace, a section, tens of kilometres wide had been cordoned off, brimming with carriages. Under the light of dawn, teachers from the various schools were busy giving their last words of advice to students, while some students had their eyes shut and were resting their thoughts.
Sectioning off this area from the masses that had gathered for merriment was a long yellow tape, made of silk; logically, this taping should not have been enough to keep the masses away, nor should it be able to stop peddlers from naturally trying to occupy prime locations for the peddling of their wares, yet the strange thing was, neither the masses nor the peddlers dared to attempt crossing the cordon.
This was because hundreds of court officials and imperial guards were stationed around the outer perimeter of the cordoning, with stern expressions on their faces. More importantly, at the end of the cordoning was a carriage that was drawn by a Black Rhinoceros, everyone on the continent knew of only one carriage that was drawn by a Black Rhinoceros and that the carriage would always only have a single passenger: His Grace, Zhou Tong, from the Ministry of Personnel.
Disciples from the Southern Domain arrived the earliest.
Disciples from all branches of the Longevity Sect were in attendance; Gou Han Shi and the three other disciples from Li Mountain stood at the front with calm expressions, as if today was like any other. With the rays of dawn shining upon their faces and a morning breeze fluttering their garments, they exuded a feeling of relaxed confidence that captivated the gaze of countless eyes.
Many sects under the administration of Holy Maiden Peak had also sent disciples. The little junior sister that had been sent to tears by Tang Thirty-Six’s words was currently standing amidst the gathered group; staring at the Li Palace complex under the morning rays, her tender face was filled with anxiety, a senior sister rubbed her head, before saying a few words to her whilst smiling reassuringly.
A young girl, wearing attire that indicated she was an outer circle disciple of the Nan Xi Institute, currently had her brows lightly crossed, giving the impression of someone that was under great stress. The Nan Xi Institute had two circles of disciples, split into an inner and outer circle; Xu You Rong was the sole disciple within the inner circle, while the outer circle had a number of disciples; the young girl had been chosen by her school to participate in the Grand Examination and thus, felt some degree of duty upon herself.
South of River Wang (Neglect), were innumerable sects, with a majority of them falling under the administration of the Longevity Sect or Holy Maiden Peak; these two schools were both sects from the Southern Domain and could be thought of as a single entity. The young disciples all stood in one place, occasionally speaking to each other in hushed tones; the disquiet they felt from being in a foreign place and the impending examination had decreased significantly.
There were, however, several disciples that were stood slightly adrift from the others, these young men wore green-coloured gowns (cheongsam) and had a scholarly aura; disciples from the renowned Scholartree Manor.
Positioned opposite to the disciples of the Southern Domain were the academies of the Capital and those who had passed the foundation trial of the Grand Examination, they stood at the Eastern section of the plaza, directly in line with the morning sunshine, and avoiding the cooler winds coming in from the West; the better location. Their numbers were greater than those opposite, to the point where all that could be seen were countless figures blotting out the view.
Zhuang Huan Yu had a detached expression on his face as he stood at the fore of the students from Heavenly Academy.
Heavenly Academy was located in front of all the other academies, with Star Seizer Academy, Temple Seminary and the other Ivy League schools located behind. Amidst the quietness of this area, the endless chattering of students from the Thirteen Divisions of Radiant Green was especially conspicuous; behind them stood regular students that had passed the foundation trial.
The Grand Examination only had Three Grades, and those considered to be the most promising were naturally students and disciples from these academies and sects. Students such as Heavenly Academy’s Zhuan Huan Yu, Li Palace College’s Su Mo Yu, two young officers from Star Seizer Academy and a senior from the Thirteen Divisions of Radiant Green.
What people were most interested in however, was the First Banner.
Similar to the history of cultivation within humanity, the Grand Examination had its highs and lows, this year was obviously a high, with competition at its fiercest. It must be known that the previous year’s first place upon the First Banner had gone to the Third Law of the Divine State’s Seven Laws, yet, if they were to participate in this year’s Grand Examination, they might not even qualify for a position upon the First Banner.
This year, four of the Divine State’s Seven Laws had come to participate; Scholartree Manor also had four participants, while Holy Maiden Peak had sent a talented female disciple. From the Capital, someone as proud as Zhuan Huan Yu had finally decided to stop biding his time, and strong figures such as Tian Hai Sheng Xue had also decided to choose this year’s examination as the time for them to display their prowess.
Only cultivators from the younger generation of the yao race were absent, unknown as to if this was related to the presence of Her Highness, Luo Luo, in the Capital; though of course, this absence does not include a certain honest youth from Orthodox Academy.
Tian Hai Sheng Xue had never entered the Grand Examination before, because he had yet to complete his Ethereal Opening; he was not confident of being able to defeat the renowned Qiu Shan Jun to take first place upon the First Banner.
Qiu Shan Jun did not participate in the Grand Examination because it didn’t interest him, Zhuan Huan Yu was of the same thought; perhaps, even the scholars from Scholartree Manor were of the same view and thus, none of them had participated in the Grand Examination until this year.
For all the prideful geniuses of the continent, their target had always been Qiu Shan Jun.
Yet lamentably, Qiu Shan Jun continued to remain absent this year.
They could wait no longer, the Mausoleum of Books had been awaiting their arrival for many years already, if they were to delay further on entering the Mausoleum and contemplating The Way, it could affect their future cultivation.
Since Qiu Shan Jun was not participating in this year’s Grand Examination, expectations on whom would place first upon the First Banner this year, fell upon two: Gou Han Shi and Tian Hai Sheng Xue; for the various leading gambling venues on the continent, their odds also reflected this view, while Zhuan Huan Yu and the scholars from Scholartree Manor were anticipated to have good chances for entering the First Banner.
A certain name that had become infamous, was intentionally being neglected by everyone; in discussions over prospects for the Grand Examination, very few would mention a certain academy.
As if they wished to affirm the views of everyone, the odds produced for the Grand Examination by the leading gambling venues had that name on the bottom of the list, with pay-out rates that bordered on absurdity, yet mysteriously, last night, the odds for first position upon the First Banner experienced a massive change, the pay-out rate for that name continuously fell, until it reached fourth place.
This year’s Grand Examination was a gathering of talent, and possibly the most competitive in the last decade, it also had countless topics of interest, such as that certain academy and that certain person. Yet sadly, the most anticipated Qiu Shan Jun and Xu You Rong were absent, everyone knew that these two had the special privilege to enter the Mausoleum of Books whenever they wished, yet, had they also entered this year, it would have made for a spectacular event.
No one knew the reason for Qiu Shan Jun’s absence from this year’s examination, even his closest confidants and junior disciples, such as Gou Han Shi, did not know of his reason.
Logically, with his cultivation and ability, he should have participated in the previous examinations; the masses had thought that he wanted to wait for Xu You Rong, so that they may enter the Mausoleum of Books to contemplate The Way together. Everyone had assumed that Xu You Rong would be participating this year; could it be, that because she wasn’t participating, Qiu Shan Jun also decided not to?
Why didn’t Xu You Rong participate this year? Was it due to the proposal on the night of the Ivy League gathering? Or was it due to the betrothal that was decided on her behalf by her grandfather?
At this moment, a horse-drawn carriage passed through the yellow cordoning and arrived at the plaza.
The crowd that had gathered at Li Palace was suddenly abuzz with chatter; someone recognised the people that just arrived.
The youth that was walking at the back there, wasn’t he the much-rumoured Chen Chang Sheng?
This plain-looking youth was the fiancé of Xu You Rong?
This youth wanted to take first place upon the First Banner?
Countless stares fell upon Chen Chang Sheng.
As if he hadn’t detected anything, he followed the procedure Minister Xin had told him of: producing a roster and related documents for registration, then standing in the section that had been designated for Orthodox Academy.
Administration of the Grand Examination was handled by the Education Board; the positioning of designated areas was obviously also controlled by the board.
The position of Orthodox Academy was… at the front.
Ahead of Heavenly Academy.
Being directly under the rising sun; extraordinarily eye-catching.
Whether be it the gathered crowds or the youths from the South who were standing opposite, this location was conveniently exposed.
Convenient for gathered stares.
The plaza was momentarily quiet, with all gazes turned towards the three youths from Orthodox Academy.
Then, with a single rumbling, endless sounds of chatter erupted.
“I’ve heard that he hasn’t even managed to Purify, yet he wants to place first upon the First Bannner? What kind of joke is this?”
“That youth is the sole grandchild of the Wen Shui Tang family? How much money has Old Master Tang frittered upon him?”
“Who’s that barbarous looking brute? He’s only thirteen? Oh, so he’s just a yao race lout.”
Having Orthodox Academy positioned at the front, the most incensed were naturally students from Heavenly Academy; since Orthodox Academy’s ruin some decades ago, Heavenly Academy had been the undisputed leader of the Ivy League academies, who would have thought, that their usual positioning would be usurped by Orthodox Academy this year. Zhuang Huan Yu didn’t say anything, but a student from Heavenly Academy reprimandingly said: “They actually came late today?”
Tang Thirty-Six had intentionally groomed himself today; his green robe swaying in the breeze, ornamental jade buckles upon the waist, a paper fan in hand and an expressionless face; an indescribable sense of aloofness and pride.
He ignored his former fellow-student; lightly flourishing his fan and basking in self-feelings of elegance, he was suddenly interrupted by a sound that came in from the side.
He turned around indignantly, using his fan to cover his nose and gave Xuan Yuan Po a stare while saying: “I told you not to eat so much, yet you wouldn’t listen; what’s so good about leftover venison?”
Xuan Yuan Po rubbed his chest and said with some embarrassment: “I’ve heard that the Grand Examination can sometimes last for three days and three nights without providing any food, that’s just scary, not to mention, even though it’s been cold lately, the deer meat had been sitting for two days, leaving it for another day will cause it to go off; wasting food is not good.”
Upon hearing this exchange, the students that were nearby had some spectacular expressions on their faces.
The Grand Examination was near, yet these two brats from Orthodox Academy were still in the mood to discuss this type of matter?
Chen Chang Sheng was not in the mood for this type of discussion.
The countless gazes that were currently concentrated upon him, made him feel somewhat solitary.
He thought back to Xi Ning village.
He was currently feeling especially sensitive to stares.
He noticed someone that wasn’t staring at him.
It was a youth.
The youth stood amongst the group from Star Seizer Academy, yet didn’t wear the military-like attire of the academy.
The weather was chillingly cold, yet the youth only wore a single piece of clothing, and even had their sleeves rolled up, with their small arms exposed to the cold breeze.
At this moment, the gazes of everyone at Li Palace were directed at Chen Chang Sheng, yet that youth had their gaze upon the distant sun that was about to break out from the horizon.
Within that sea of people, the youth seemed extremely solitary.
Chen Chang Sheng suddenly felt that he and that youth were the same type of person.