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“The day after tomorrow? Because that’s when the Banner is released? I don’t consider it to be all that important, who can possibly take away your first upon the First Banner at this point?” said Tang Thirty-Six mockingly as he looked at him.
He then became quiet due to five words that were in his previous speech, he looked at Chen Chang Sheng and said: “That’s right, you’ve already become first upon the First Banner… I have to admit, at the start, I really couldn’t look upon you favourably, even when you entered the tower with Gou Han Shi at the end, I still didn’t think you would actually be able to take first place, yet, who could have expected, in the end you really did obtain it.”
He extended his right hand, resting it upon Chen Chang Sheng’s shoulder, he lightly squeezed, then said: “Incredible.”
Within the library, it was silent, Xuan Yuan Po didn’t say anything, but his gaze that was fixated on Chen Chang Sheng, expressed the same sentiment.
“Thank you for all that you’ve done,” said Chen Chang Sheng sincerely as he looked at Tang Thirty-Six, he then turned his head to look at Xuan Yuan Po and said: “Everyone, thank you.”
This “everyone” included Xuan Yuan Po, encompassed Jin Yu Lu and naturally, also included Luo Luo. Without all of them, no matter how hard he was to strive, how would he have been able to create this miracle?
Leaving the library and returning to the small dorm building – Tang Thirty-Six and Xuan Yuan Po were undoubtedly, currently drinking rice wine; Chen Chang Sheng lay within the wooden tub, enjoying the hot water’s sweltering heat as he mused about their revelry.
Since Luo Luo and her people left the Hundred Herb Garden, the newly installed door hadn’t been opened for a long period of time, thus he had moved the tub back over.
Whether be it early Spring or under the falling snow of cold Winter, bathing under the open sky is a very pleasant experience, it was also a habit he had acquired from bathing in the hot springs outside of the old temple at Xi Ning Village.
His hands rested on the tub’s edge, his gaze traversed across the dorm’s roof and fell upon the night sky, seeing the endless sea of stars, he perceived the small red star that was far away, feeling very tranquil and happy.
The heavens above have countless stars, knowing that there is a star which completely, serenely and silently belonged to himself with full certainty; being the sole thing between him and itself; this made him feel very pleasant.
Within the abyss of despair, he had quietly advanced without any companions, without a crutch, without seeing any sunlight at all and without stopping. He had finally left the fog and could see hope; this made him feel even better.
Under the starlight, Chen Chang Sheng’s still tender looking face revealed a small, sincere smile.
Likewise, under the starlight, at a location in the direction of the academy’s wall, seen at the upper tip of the woodlands, while being situated deep within the Imperial Palace, there was a lonely, distant and expansive pavilion, as if it were removed from everything in the world: this was the Pavilion of Ascending Mist.
Gazing at the far away Pavilion of Ascending Mist, the smile on Chang Sheng’s face gradually withdrew, returning to a peaceful state, he silently said to himself, “I will see you soon, I hope it can be a pleasant meeting.”
By this time, those displays of Autumn in the Tower of Purging Dust and the meaning that was hidden behind them; the confrontation between the new and tradition factions of the Orthodoxy and its relation to the academy; the thoughts of that elderly Archbishop; all of these things, for him, had become unimportant, he no longer mused over these things and even completely stopped thinking about them.
Matters outside of life and death are all naught but normal, or perhaps, small affairs.
The next morning, Chen Chang Sheng once again woke at the fifth hour, in accordance to his set lifestyle, after getting out of bed, he ignored Tang Thirty-Six, who was still hungover, and his cries of having a headache, he also ignored Xuan Yuan Po’s thunderous snoring, forcing both of them out of bed and dragging them to the dining-table. From a pot, he dished out some millet congee and salted vegetables, placing it into bowls that were placed in front of them.
After their night of happy drinking, Tang Thirty-Six and Xuan Yuan Po were currently extremely tired, yet after smelling the fragrant salted vegetables and seeing the faintly golden millet congee, their appetites suddenly returned, they buried their heads in and slurped it down.
After a short while, Jin Yu Lu also came in.
Chen Chang Sheng and the others felt a little startled, it had to be known, that in the past few months, Secretary-General Jin had always eaten aromatically and drunken pungently in his own room and would very rarely partake in the academy’s three meals.
“Don’t be mistaken, I’m still not interested in food that doesn’t contain any meat,” said Jin Yu Lu as he laughed lightly. Upon hearing his words, Xuan Yuan Po vigorously nodded his head; as a fellow member of the yao race, he concurred with what Secretary-General Jin had just said, it was just, in front of Chen Chang Sheng, he dared to fume, but didn’t dare to speak.
Chen Chang Sheng got up and filled a bowl of millet congee, passing it to Jin Yu Lu’s hand, then asked: “What’s happened?”
Jin Yu Lu passed over a stack of items that were in his hand, he then raised the bowl of millet congee and drank it all in a single motion, he then said: “Since early this morning, it hasn’t abated at all, go and see for yourself as to how it should be handled.”
Finishing those words, he turned around and headed for the academy gate.
Chen Chang Sheng received the stack of items, casually going through them, upon seeing the words and the names that were on them, his expression became slightly tense, this was followed with a lot of doubt and confusion.
That thick stack was comprised entirely of name cards and gift records – there was a gift record from Prince Chen Liu; there were gifts from several red-clad clergy of the Education Board; Minister Xin had even privately sent a hefty gift.
There were name cards from several high ranking officials of the government, with one of them actually being from Xue Xing Chuan; once Chen Chang Sheng had reached the bottom, he even saw gift records from Holy Churches other than the Education Board.
What was this about? Chen Chang Sheng was really puzzled, upon going through the stack of name cards and gift records, Tang Thirty-Six also felt very perplexed.
The three of them travelled to the academy entrance, wanting to seek the advice of Jin Yu Lu, but all they saw was that the entrance area was very noisy. Countless craftsmen were endlessly working away, in just a single night, an academy gate constructed from white jade material had already begun to emerge in its initial form, this caused them to involuntarily feel speechless.
Chen Chang Sheng placing first upon the First Banner was nowhere near enough to bring about such changes, in a single night, the Capital’s attitude towards Orthodox Academy had completely changed; there was definitely a problem here.
Being unable to understand it, it was better to not ponder over it. Chen Chang Sheng and the others did not leave the academy, but did what they usually did, sitting in the library, reading and cultivating, discussing and reviewing details of the Grand Examination.
– especially details on the final battle against Gou Han Shi.
How did he achieve Ethereal Opening? Chen Chang Sheng didn’t know, but he still wanted to confer his experience to Tang Thirty-Six and Xuan Yuan Po, hoping to provide some help for their future breakthrough into the realm of Ethereal Opening.
Apart from this, their activities for today were no different from usual, apart from Chen Chang Sheng occasionally glancing towards the academy entrance or the quiet academy wall that was in the direction of the academy’s pond (lake), thinking that Zhe Xiu would make an appearance at the next moment, yet, in the end, it didn’t happen.
A day passed by and then a night, arriving at the time where the Banners of the Grand Examination are officially released.
The Banners aren’t released at Li Palace, but instead, at the plaza before the Hall of Grand Clarity. The azure skies above were void of clouds for countless miles, sunlight constantly streamed down, driving away the chill of early Spring. With the temperature becoming as heated as the atmosphere of the plaza.
Peddlers on the outer perimeter that were selling small benches, melon seeds and tea were naturally the busiest people there, while the military personnel and constables that were tasked with maintaining order, remained the hardest working people there. Only those that would occasionally converse with soldiers they were acquainted with, were the most fortunate people; being able to join in the revelry without worrying about anything was obviously the most fortunate thing.
It was a sea of people before the Hall of Grand Clarity, thousands upon thousands of citizens from the Capital, alongside travellers who had rushed over from the outer regions, formed a teeming dark mass, their faces filled with elated expressions.
A protocol officer, wearing a vermillion coloured government uniform, stood atop some steps that were located at the Northern end of the plaza, his hands held a silken document, with him loudly announcing the list of names for this year’s Three Grades.
In front of him and behind, there were a total of 16 black-garbed strongmen, loud whips in hand, awaiting their role.
Every time the protocol officer announced a name, the 16 strongmen would uniformly crack the leather whips, creating a sharp sound of air being broken, filling the entire plaza and suppressing sounds of the crowd’s discussion. Following this moment of silence, court musicians that were situated at the rear of the hallway, atop the steps, would perform a musical piece as a celebration.
A very simplistic and perhaps even a little dull process, but because of the Grand Examination’s unique status and due to the plaza’s atmosphere, it made it all the more festive.
Upon announcing the name of a single person, came the sound of whips, after the sound of whips it was music; in the end, what resonated within the plaza, was still the thunderous cheering.
With the announcement of a single name by the protocol officer, the sound of cheering would fill the skies, those examinees that were waiting by the side of the hall, after tidying their clothing, would arrive in front of the hall decorously, receiving the masses’ felicitations and the Zhou Empire’s commendation.
The Grand Examination selected a total of 43 people. The examinees arrived in front of the hall in sequence, their expressions differing. Most examinees were uncontrollably jubilant; some were haughty, their faces showing that they believed their placement to be a matter of course; some examinees were calm, while some were anxious and uneasy; some examinees appeared somewhat forlorn, being very displeased with their ranking.
Though Su Mo Yu had been eliminated from the duelling very early on by Zhe Xiu, his results in the Academic Exam were very good, and in the end, he barely made it into the Grand Examinations Three Grades, fortuitously placing last on the Third Grading, for this, he felt rather rueful, but he didn’t display anything, calmly accepting everything.
For examinees that were similar to him, in being far-famed, the majority of them entered the Three Grades, with very few mishaps occurring, apart from Zhe Xiu, who had no results to speak of in the academic phase and therefore didn’t make it into the Three Grades.
With the vermillion-garbed officer continuously announcing names, everyone subsequently heard the names of three young scholars from Scholartree Manor, three names from Star Seizer Academy, two from Holy Maiden Peak, one from Heavenly Academy and two from Temple Seminary; the three young experts from Li Shan Sword Sect were obviously also included.
The masses counted as they listened, discovering that this year was still the same as the previous years, with the Southerners having the lead; the sounds of cheering gradually became weak and listless, but were also all the more expectant of the First Banner’s announcement.
Unknown as to if it was this reason, or if it was because Tang Thirty-Six was far too well-liked by the girls of the Capital, upon the protocol officer’s announcement of his name, the cheering that happened in front of the Hall of Grand Clarity, actually became incredibly resounding.
It had finally reached the time for announcement of the Grand Examination’s First Banner, though the seating arrangements had already been decided upon early on, the masses were still attentive and expectant, seeming to be especially euphoric; the sounds of discussion gradually intensified.
Third place on the First Banner for this year’s Grand Examination went to Scholartree Manor’s Zhong Hui.
Zhong Hui is a renowned young genius, ranked ninth upon the Proclamation of Azure Clouds, but rationally speaking, entering the First Banner should have been a very difficult task for him.
However, on this occasion, with Luo Luo’s results for the Grand Examination not being included in the rankings; Tian Hai Sheng Xue’s early withdrawal from the competition; Liang Ban Hu’s loss to his own junior brother, Qi Jian; Qi Jian and Guan Fei Bai’s subsequent losses to Zhe Xiu; and Zhuang Huan Yu’s unexpected loss: when totalling his results with that of the academic phase, Zhong Hui had actually entered the First Banner in an extremely lucky manner.
Zhong Hui was very clear on the fact that the only reason as to why he had entered the First Banner, was due to luck. His face revealed no joy, but when receiving the golden sceptre that represented third place, he didn’t dare to reveal a shred of negligence, because the person in charge of awards to those upon the First Banner, was no longer the protocol officer, but a real dignitary: His Excellency, The Zhou Dynasty’s Prime Minister, Yu Wenjing.
Following this, Gou Han Shi walked up to the front of the hall from the side. He, who had yet to reach the age of twenty, clothed in simple garments, his expression calm and unfettered, allowed the Prime Minister to help him place the jade belt upon his waist. He politely gave his gratitude, then retreated to one side, only upon the masses unrestrained clapping and cheering, did he reveal a small smile.
After this, it became eerily quiet in front of the Hall of Grand Clarity. The breathing of the whip wielding strongmen and even the brushing of fabric from the populace’s clothing seemed to be ear-piercingly loud.
A lone youth headed towards the front of the hall, following along the stone steps.
The sights of many, rested upon him.