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In the Academy, there was the back of the mountain, and behind the mountain, there was a cliff.
Everyone in the back of the mountain, expect Ning Que, had been to the cliff and was surprised by the impressive view. It was so brilliant that they didn't often go there. For them, that cliff was not a dangerous place, but they knew very well that enjoying the view of the cliff and retreating at the cliff are totally different.
The last person in the Academy who was confined at the Back Cliff was a famous person, so much that no one outside the Academy was willing to mention his name, and they didn't dare to do that either. He was Youngest Uncle.
Everyone knew the story of Youngest Uncle retreating at the Back Cliff. And they also knew how hard it was to break the confinement there; it required the highest talent and greatest perseverance. Thus, it was really a shock to everyone when the master said he would send their Youngest Brother to the Back Cliff.
Everyone in the hut was silent. The complicated expressions on the students' faces showed their disagreement with the Headmaster of the Academy's decision, but no one dared to say anything because the master, who was sitting in the chair, slowly closed his eyes.
Apart from his big figure, the Headmaster seemed very normal. Apart from once cutting peach flowers on the West-Hill, there weren't other legendary stories about him known to the world. The Headmaster left fewer stories than his Younger Brother Ke Haoran, but every cultivator believed that he was the most legendary person in the last thousand years.
People in the hut respected and loved their master deeply. And now when they didn't understand and approve the master's punishment to the Youngest Brother, no one knew what to do.
Chen Pipi rubbed his hands and walked to Ning Que. He bowed deeply to the master and said in a shivering voice, "Master, that punishment is a little too much, isn't it?"
Before Ning Que came to the Academy, Chen Pipi was the youngest student on the Second floor of the Academy. And except Eldest Brother, he was the master's most beloved student. At this time, he was the most suitable person to say something for Ning Que.
Ning Que didn't stay in the back of mountain for a long time, and from the last spring until today, he had been in the Wilderness. But even so, all the Senior Brothers and Sisters liked this Young Brother. Seeing Chen Pipi plucked up his courage to beg the master, they also joined him.
Everyone was trying to make the master happy and take his decision back; Seventh Sister walked to the back of the master and started ma.s.saging his shoulders; Beigong Weiyang and Ximen Buhuo talked about how steep the cliff was with a sad expression; Fifth Brother and Eighth Brother tried to change the topic.
Eleventh Brother w.a.n.g Chi didn't do the same thing. He looked at the master in the eye and thought for a while. "If nothing is alive, then there won't be such a thing as a heart; if fur doesn't exist anymore, there won't be such a thing as hair; if flowers don't bloom anymore, there won't be such things as colors; and if one is not wrong, then there won't be such a thing as a punishment. Given that master gives Youngest Brother such a heavy punishment, I wonder what he did wrong."
w.a.n.g Chi rarely spoke with people, he only liked talking with flowers. So, when he started arguing with the master, it was clear how worrying the situation was.
Second Brother always followed etiquette and order strictly, so he couldn't be more respectful to the master. But at this moment, instead of reproaching w.a.n.g Chi for not respecting their teacher, he said slowly to the master, "Master, I have consulted all the rules of the Academy, and I don't think he did something that deserves such a heavy punishment."
Third Sister Yu Lian was writing Hairpin-style Small Regular Script on a table around a corner of the hut. She stopped writing and looked at Ning Que and the master. She was thinking but still couldn't find a way out.
The crowd was still trying to persuade the master, but he was sitting still with closed eyes at all times. Eldest Brother looked at the master quietly for a while, then he walked forward and bowed to him deeply.
His move quieted the room and the noise stopped. Everyone walked back to their own places and looked at him expectantly.
The Headmaster of the Academy opened his eyes slowly. He looked at Eldest Brother unexpectantly and said, "You also want to say something?"
Senior Brother straightened up and said seriously, "I believe master has your own reason, I can guess roughly what it is. But Youngest Brother has just entered the Academy. Although he did improve quickly during the adventure to the Wilderness, I don't think he is as powerful as Youngest Uncle."
Second Brother frowned when he remembered the story of Youngest Uncle and said while shaking his head, "Master, Senior Brother is right. What if Youngest Brother couldn't understand it in ten years?"
The master looked at these two students who had been studying with him since they were children. And he glanced around the room, seeing the worried and expectant faces of his young students. With his long eyebrows moving slightly, he said, "He would never be allowed to go out if he couldn't understand. I never believe in Lucky Chance, but it worked on him. And now he needs to face his own Lucky Chance."
His eyes were peaceful.
It was just a slow glance around the room, but everyone got the feeling that master was staring at them at all times. His peaceful eyes were so determined that the crowd lowered their heads and didn't dare to say anything any more. The hut was as silent as a quiet lake.
Ning Que heard Chen Pipi mention the Back Cliff once, but he didn't pay much attention. And he wasn't very shocked when he heard that the master would confine him there because he thought it would end anyway, maybe the master just wanted to use it to challenge him and improve him.
However, he realized that being confined at the Back Cliff was a horrible punishment when he saw the reactions of his Senior Brothers and Sisters, especially when Second Brother asked what if he couldn't go out in ten years, and the master said then he would never come out. He felt a little cold.
It was said that everything could be a cultivation. But it was very different between normal cultivating and cultivating in a cold jail alone. No matter how powerful he would become after the confinement, Ning Que still couldn't accept that he would be imprisoned for ten years, or even for his whole life. He could never accept it.
Ning Que looked down, thinking of his bleak future in a prison. His body was as cold as if he dropped into an icehouse. He didn't understand what mistake he made and why he was punished so hard.
But there was no anger or unwillingness on his face when he looked up because he knew any emotion would be useless when facing the master. So he asked carefully, "Master, what will prove that I have understood?"
The master said, "When you know about a thing thoroughly, you understand it."
What he said sounded like useless words.
Ning Que remembered when he couldn't understand at the Ocean of Qi in the Snow Mountain and when he thought for a long time about talisman. He understood something roughly.
He was silent for a while, and then he said, "How can I prove that I already understand?"
The master said, "When you are clear about it, you understand it naturally."
Ning Que looked at him in the eye and said, "I think there should be a standard."
Looking at this young student who insisted on finding the answer, the master's eyes lit up. His eyes were like dew on the pine, shining and reflecting the morning rays.
"There is a standard."
"Who makes the standard? You?"
"It already exists."
"Master, I can't stay at the Back Cliff for a long time though. His Majesty still wants to meet me, and I need to learn how to take charge of Chang'an city properly. And in a few days, it will be the 100th day since the death of my teacher Yan Se, I need to go to his tomb and kowtow. How about I go to retreat eight days of every ten days?"
The master's eyes turned brighter and brighter as Ning Que kept talking. And in the end, his eyes were even smiling. And the smile in his eyes was so big as if it could even flow out like water overflowed from a lake.
But suddenly, he stopped smiling and said slowly to Ning Que, "Last night on the platform of the Building of Pines and Cranes, what did you say you were?"
"I was a person who was having a normal life on the Dragon Hidden Mountain," murmured Ning Que.
The Headmaster said, "I don't know where the Dragon Hidden Mountain is, but I do know what normal means."
Ning Que understood his words and looked up at the white straw hanging down from the roof. He knew someone like the master would never become angry about his student just because of the debate they had on the Building of Pines and Cranes. Then why did he want to lock him up at the Back Cliff? Was it because he joined the Devil?
Youngest Uncle died because he got punished by Haotian. He also lost his fame and no one talked about him anymore. Maybe the master wanted to lock him up because he inherited the Great Spirit of Youngest Uncle and it reminded him of Youngest Uncle's story? Or maybe he wanted to maintain the good reputation of the Academy? Or maybe there were other reasons?
Ning Que kept thinking, he felt that the thing he understood roughly became a puzzle again. The Great Spirit in his body started moving around when he was thinking, like a knife, it stuck towards his throat. He said in a husky voice, "Master... you are an unreasonable person."
All people in the hut were very shocked. Second Brother looked serious and Eldest Brother sighed slowly. After all, no one dared to doubt or even criticize the master at such a formal occasion, despite that they got along very well.
The master didn't become angry, he said, "You already said your master was the most unreasonable person in the Building of Pines and Cranes. Didn't you?"
Ning Que was silent for a while and then he said, "Please allow me to talk with my handmaiden before I go to the Back Cliff."
"No need. I asked you to take your handmaiden here today so that you can take her with you to the Back Cliff. After all, you still need her to cook for you and look after you on the Back Cliff," said the master.
It was not until then did Ning Que see the real reason the master asked him to take Sangsang here; he was prepared to lock him at the back of the mountain. Suddenly he remembered what Sangsang was like. And he knew she would not leave the Back Cliff without him if he was there. Then it meant that both of them would be locked at the Back Cliff.
When he thought about that, the Great Spirit became as powerful as a sharp sword and stuck to his chest. He couldn't control his emotion anymore. Ning Que looked at the Headmaster in anger and clenched his fist.
But he didn't do anything, instead, he looked at the master peacefully and took a deep breath to restrain his anger. Then he said mildly, "I will follow your order, master."
The master watched his youngest and last student for a long time. He watched him thinking. He watched him feeling upset, then angry. He saw him losing control of the Great Spirit, and then trying to return to peace. And in the end, he saw him returning to normal.
"Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha..."
He burst into laughter and stood up from the chair. He stroked his black gown and walked out of the hut without informing any students there.
Outside the hut stood the Jinlan Tree that he and his Younger Brother planted many years ago. Looking at the green leaves in the tree, the old man said happily but with pity, "There are no such things as two leaves exactly same leaves, then how can two people be exactly the same?"