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The youth was rather skinny, but not to the point of being emaciated; the body beneath that flimsy clothing seemed to have substantial amounts of hidden strength.
He had his eyes squinted as he gazed upon the rising sun, a look of yearning, yet trepidation; fearing to get close, and thus keeping their distance, akin to Chen Chang Sheng’s attitude towards the flamboyance of this world.
The rising sun gradually broke through the clouds upon the horizon, appearing before everyone present.
Everyone was still staring at Chen Chang Sheng, babbling away; “I’ve heard he hasn’t even completed his Purification, with what is he going get first place on the First Banner?”
Gou Han Shi’s brow lightly twitched, he felt that today’s Chen Chang Sheng was slightly different from when they last met at the divine avenue, yet he couldn’t tell what had changed.
Mao Qiu Yu was not required to stand in line like the other students and teachers, he sat upon the observation platform of Li Palace and gazed at Chen Chang Sheng, thinking to himself: “He actually succeeded in his Purification, but why does it feel slightly different?”
Chen Chang Sheng wanted to ask Tang Thirty-Six if he recognized the lonely looking youth that was standing amidst the students from Star Seizer Academy, but Minister Xin had arrived.
“You have to win.” Minister Xin said to him keenly, as he patted him on the shoulder.
Chen Chang Sheng was slightly confused, over the past few days, Minister Xin had visited Orthodox Academy multiple times, yet he had never said those words, only seeking to help relieve some of the pressure he might have felt, why did he choose to say those words today, with the Grand Examination about to commence?
“I’ve bet my entire fortune on you winning,” said Minister Xin. “If you fail to take first place upon the First Banner today, then you have to remember to collect my corpse from the River Luo tomorrow.”
Under these circumstances, if Chen Chang Sheng were to fail at obtaining first place, the one most affected would not be Orthodox Academy, but the Education Board that had supported the academy; were the Education Board to falter, Minister Xin’s future would be a bleak one, thus, he had logically placed all his assets on a bet for Chen Chang Sheng’s victory.
Chen Chang Sheng didn’t know what to say in reply, but Tang Thirty-Six answered: “No wonder last night had some big changes to the pay-out rate.”
The Wen Shui Tang family were loath to lag behind in monetary affairs, though they weren’t overly interested in the small sums involved with gambling on the Grand Examination, they nevertheless kept a close eye on its developments.
Minister Xin replied: “Just my own personal wealth would not be enough to affect the pay-out rates of the gambling scene.”
They stared towards the ceremony platform, towards the biggest patron of Orthodox Academy.
There, His Eminence, Archbishop Mei Li Sha, had his eyes lightly shut, indiscernible as to whether if he was sleeping or awake; no one knew how much had he wagered upon Chen Chang Sheng winning.
In the same way, no one knew how much had Mo Yu, who was currently seated beside him, had wagered upon Chen Chang Sheng.
That’s correct, Lady Mo Yu believed in Chen Chang Sheng’s ability to place first upon the First Banner, she didn’t have any logical reason to believe this, but she still felt that he could achieve it.
The Grand Examination was separated into an Academic Exam, Martial Trial and Duelling Stage, the ordering of these phases was not fixed, and was decided each year as it commenced. For this year, the first phase was the Academic Exam, when this was announced five days ago, a lot of people speculated that this was the Education Board intentionally favouring Orthodox Academy, or more specifically, Chen Chang Sheng.
The Academic Exam was to be held at the Hall of Zhao Wen (Pellucid Edification), with some time to go before its initiation, Minister Xin lowered his voice and reminded the three youths from Orthodox Academy that for the Martial Trial, no matter how well their performance was in the Academic Exam, if they fail to complete the Martial Trial, they will not qualify for the Duelling Stage and their result will effectively be nothing.
Xuan Yuan Po nodded his head, thinking to himself that he could only choose that option. Chen Chang Sheng knew that this was a reminder to himself, that he should not spend too much time on the Academic Examination; the question of whether if he could pass the Martial Trial was the most important issue at hand, as for the Academic Exam, no one cared for its results, something attested to by the expressions on everyone gathered here, before the Hall of Zhao Wen.
A lot of stares were still directed at Chen Chang Sheng, but these stares were different from what he had experienced in the past or even just earlier, these stares did not carry any sense of doubt or mockery, they only had envy or a begrudging respect.
After the bout between Orthodox Academy and Li Shan Sword Sect at the Ivy League gathering, and the evaluations from the Council of Divine Ordinance when the proclamation was updated, there was no longer anyone who doubted Chen Chang Sheng’s learning; the masses had found, much to their astonishment, that the younger generation, after Gou Han Shi, had once again produced a monster that had read the Scriptures in their entirety.
They didn’t believe that Chen Chang Sheng could place first upon the First Banner, but they did believe in his ability to challenge Gou Han Shi in the academic phase, to take the leading position. The large gambling venues of the continent reflected this view in their odds, with his pay-out rate being just behind that of Gou Han Shi, occupying second place.
The second peal rung out; the examinees entered the exam venue.
The Hall of Zhao Wen was vast, dozens of entrances opened at once and under the falcon-like gazes of Orthodox clergy and officials from the Ministry of Personnel, hundreds of people from the younger generation waded in; who knows who would soon soar upon the heavens akin to a dragon, or who would swim into the Zhou Empire’s fishing nets, or who would be miserably caught by the falcons and fished out to be taken away.
A silencing array was activated, the Hall of Zhao Wen was designed to keep out the wind, with the use of a veil, only light could enter the Hall; the wind and rain, alongside other distractions, were kept at bay.
The space within the Hall was extraordinarily vast, filled with hundreds of desks, it still looked sparse. Each desk was separated by a good distance, and even though eyesight is much improved for those who have finished their Purification, the distance would make it difficult to spy upon answers from those nearby without someone noticing; not to mention the twenty-odd clergy who were at the Ethereal Opening realm or above, whom were tasked with continuously patrolling the venue.
The clergy started handing out the papers, and the examinees started reading them, the shuffling of paper arose at once, coinciding at one point, akin to the rushing sound of heavy rain.
Some did not read the paper, but instead started to grind their ink slabs to calm their mind, someone such as Tai Hai Sheng Xue.
Some were in a daze from boredom, someone such as Luo Luo; since her results were not going to be included, she was loath to bother expending energy on answering the questions. Not a moment later, a clergy member came before her desk, respectfully greeting her, before quietly whispering a few words. She then got up and followed the clergy member, probably leaving the exam venue for one of the side halls in order to rest.
Some had their eyes closed and were resting their thoughts, someone such as the youth Chen Chang Sheng had been secretly keeping his eye on.
Some, did what they needed to; if they needed to check the paper, then they checked the paper; if they needed to grind some ink, then they ground some ink; if they felt like observing someone, then they observed that someone; if they wanted to close their eyes and rest their thoughts, then they closed their eyes and rested their thoughts; if they felt thirsty, they asked for tea; if they felt sleepy, then they rubbed their eyes; akin to this day being like any other, someone like Chen Chang Sheng and Gou Han Shi.
Not intentionally forcing yourself to be calm is to be truly calm, truly confident.
The third peal rung out; the examinees started to move their brushes.
Chen Chang Sheng held his brush, not yet lowering it onto his paper, gazing upon the dark letters, he remained silent for a while.
From the Old Temple at Xi Ning, to the flourishing Capital; from being a young Taoist that was unknown to all, to being the focus of thousands; he had spent 10 months for this.
He started on his paper.
Nearby, Gou Han Shi started his.