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“Count yourself lucky, if you’ve the guts, then don’t sneak away after.”
Upon hearing peals of the bell and the chiding of their teachers, even the most infuriated of students could only stop their actions towards chasing Chen Chang Sheng’s group. After throwing out a few curses, they all began returning to their respective schools… classes were about to begin.
At the end of the divine avenue was a set of steps, roughly a thousand in number; the steps were made of white jade and smooth as the surface of a mirror. The dome-like palace that was previously visible from a distance, was situated at the top these stairs, this building was not the main Li Palace estate, but the Hall of Clear Virtue.
Standing from the bottom of the stairs, while gazing up at the grand and towering construct, only further enhanced its sense of majesty.
“Why did you have to add those last few words?”
The stairs were arduously long, yet it was forbidden to use abilities within the grounds of the palace, therefore they could only slowly progress onwards. Upon remembering the uproar they just left behind, Chen Chang Sheng couldn’t help himself asking: “How are we supposed to leave once we’re finished here? Or do you really expect us to fight our way out?”
Xuan Yuan Po was a forthright and courageous yao youth, but he wasn’t stupid, after checking out the surroundings, he asked: “Who knows where the back entrance is?”
“There’s no need to worry, you guys may not know how to fight, but I’m not scared.” Replied Tang Thirty-Six.
“Even if Gou Han Shi and the others don’t make an appearance; Li Palace College, Temple Seminary, alongside other experts that are ranked on the Proclamation of Azure Clouds not withstanding; no matter how good you are at fighting, are really going to go against thousands alone?”
“His Grace, Secretary-General Jin, also needs to return to Orthodox Academy, though it might be wrong for the strong to bully the weak, surely his venerable self wouldn’t just stand by and watch us get pummelled to death?”
Jin Yu Lu only smiled in response.
Chen Chang Sheng felt exasperated and said: “Were Secretary-General Jin to take action, wouldn’t the teachers and possibly even principals also intervene?”
Tang Thirty-Six countered: “If the principals got involved, there wouldn’t even be any fighting.”
Chen Chang Sheng was speechless; Xuan Yuan Po muttered: “You humans are way too sly.”
“Regardless, your words to that girl were far too heartless.”
“Oh? Please tell me, for whom was I helping? You’re the one that’s heartless.”
“Fine, fine. I’m the one in the wrong.”
“But I still don’t quite understand, from our first meeting at Heavenly Academy, to our meeting at the inn, you are now completely different. From having a reputation for being cold and asocial, you’re now garrulous, not to mention potty-mouthed…”
“You just don’t understand.”
Tang Thirty-Six stilled his steps, turning around to stare towards the Capital with a melancholic face. “Like on the day Tian Hai Sheng Xue came charging at the doors of our school. Standing in the rain with a sword in my hand; naturally I would be cool, but I was feigning the stoic atmosphere. Pretending to be on the verge all the time is actually tiring.”
Chen Chang Sheng let out a sound of understanding and said, “So you were just faking it all this time?”
Tang Thirty-Six gave out a curt laugh, “Stupid, apart from that wolf-child of the North, who would be so naturally cold and aloof?”
“Why did you decide to stop faking it?”
“Why would I need to fake it in front of you all?”
“Well… at least… at least cut down on the vulgarity, it’s not right.”
“Like as if the bunch of you can understand how I feel? From the earliest moments I can remember, I’ve had to pretend to be stoic and proud, like a being that isn’t swayed by worldly matters. After restraining myself for so many years; like a dam that has been held back until bursting, I’ll be damned if I don’t let it go for at least a few days.”
“What you mean to say is, holding it in until you’ve basically scarred yourself will make you a delinquent?”
“That’s right, the longer you hold it in for, the greater the subsequent outburst. Like that little wife of yours; a saint-like lady, to the point where even demons from Old Snow City would gladly kneel before her; I’m sure, even she would have moments where she would want to…”
Tang Thirty-Six hesitated for a moment while watching Chen Chang Sheng, before continuing, “… cuss people’s mothers on impulse.”
Chen Chang Sheng was surprised for a moment, before finally realising he was referring to Xu You Rong, prompting him to remain silent.
“But the gazes of those girls who were staring at you earlier all changed.” Xuan Yuan Po said in tone of pity.
Tang Thirty-Six answered: “I don’t like being stared at by these girls, at Wen Shui it was like this, at Heavenly Academy it was like this; but now I’m at Orthodox Academy. I’m not the Mausoleum of Books, what’s there to see?”
Xuan Yuan Po remembered the pretty figures of the human girls from the Thirteen Divisions of Radiant Green and wistfully said: “If only they could look at me like that instead”
“My brother, as old-looking as you naturally are, aren’t you only 13 years of age? Yet you’re already thinking about sowing your seeds?”
“Chen Chang Sheng is only older than me by a year, yet isn’t he already going to get married? Not to mention, for us, having children at 13 is normal.”
“That raises the question, I’m curious, how many children can your kind bear at once?”
A cough resonated from Jin Yu Lu.
This prompted an immediate change in topic by Tang Thirty-Six: “What’s so nice about being stared at by people?”
“Having it isn’t a bad thing.”
“What if you get stare-death?”
“Stares that stare you to death.”
“Uhh… wouldn’t that only be possible from the Saint Realm?”
“You’re impossible to converse with.”
“In times past, the younger brother of Zhou Du Fu, named Zhou Yu Ren, was famed as to being the most handsome man on the continent, on his first visit to the Capital, he received the welcoming of tens of thousands of women; their stares were as hot as a flame, akin to a wish to swallow him whole. Zhou Yu Ren, who was originally already weak of constitution, couldn’t withstand this shock and verged on the point of death, and hence, came the phrase: stare-death.”
“Well, my yao body is stronger than that of humans, so I can’t see a problem.”
“There really is no point in conversing with you.”
“Thirty-Six, thinking on it now, you’re not that good looking, so aren’t you just thinking too much?”
Honest people speak honest words; the most effective, the most potent words.
Orthodox Academy had two of these people in the form of Chen Chang Sheng and Xuan Yuan Po.
Tang Thirty-Six felt hurt.
A thousand steps may be arduous, yet it was no match for the pacing of Chen Chang Sheng alongside playful banter. After a short while, the group arrived before the Hall of Clear Virtue.
With Jin Yu Lu leading, they verified their identity before continuing to enter the Hall of Clear Virtue.
The Hall of Clear Virtue, matching its name, had a calm breeze within its walls, furnishings were sparse and the floors were spotless; an extremely wide and modest-looking space. What confused Chen Chang Sheng however, was that he couldn’t see any signs of people residing in this area; where was Luo Luo’s living quarters?
Jin Yu Lu didn’t say anything, but took the three youths and followed the clergyman that lead the way onwards towards a deeper section of the building. The Hall of Clear Virtue’s flooring was paved with green-coloured slabs of around 2 chi (Chinese foot) in length, upon stepping on each, they would mysteriously radiate a faint brilliance. Xuan Yuan Po lowered his gaze towards his steps, looking at the phenomenon with much amusement and curiosity.
Chen Chang Sheng also focused his attention on this special property of the green-coloured slabs, looking farther away, other green slabs did not exhibit the same radiance as those currently under their feet and were also differing in hue. Thinking upon the vast area covered by the hall, these green slabs must have numbered in the tens of thousands, could they have been arranged to form some sort of pattern?
Alas, just like how it isn’t possible to make out the image of a mountain while being situated on the mountain; by standing amidst the green slabs, he couldn’t make out its pattern and could only let go of this thought.
If one were to observe from the top of the hall however, they would be able to clearly see that the slabs of differing hue collectively formed the image of a lone, green tree leaf, and Chen Chang Sheng’s group were currently walking along a path delineated as one of the veins of this leaf.
The leading clergyman was a person of few words, who only occasionally spoke to Jin Yu Lu briefly while ignoring the three youths.
With each step they took, green slabs would continue radiating in turn, illuminating this particular path on the leaf, akin to some sort of energy permeating through.
Finally, the tree leaf path became fully illuminated and the group had arrived, under the leading of the clergyman, to the farthest region of the hall.
What awaited ahead was pitch blackness.
The darkness only endured for a short while, giving Chen Chang Sheng the impression of it being only a blink of an eye. From the closing of the eye, to the next moment of opening, akin to the passing of an entire night, experienced by everyone present; a moment of darkness, then light, and thus entrance to a new world, this experience wasn’t shared by everyone present.
Upon this scene, his mouth lightly widened in shock, unable to say anything in reaction.
Xuan Yuan Po, who was standing beside him had an even more exaggerated expression.
A sky dyed in porcelain blue, with countless clouds floating by, each perfectly shaped, akin to the propitious clouds described in The Books. Amongst the clouds were hundreds of saintly cranes soaring across, with their calls filling the air, a scene that calmed the very soul.
Before them stood a towering palace.
Situated farther away, there were also other palaces, all constructed of the same design.
This was a perfect world, no matter the propitious clouds, the saintly cranes, the palaces, the jade pools or even the clean and refreshing air, all painted a picture of perfection. An ethereal kind of perfection that felt far-removed from reality, yet here they were, experiencing the reality for themselves.
“Don’t embarrass our school, just continue forwards.”
Tang Thirty-Six quietly said to the other two from the side before moving forwards like as if he didn’t know them.
By the time Chen Chang Sheng regained his senses, he could already see that Jin Yu Lu and the leading clergyman had reached the towering palace. Quickly patting Xuan Yuan Po in order to rouse him, they hurriedly followed onwards.
Upon reaching the location of Tang Thirty-Six, they asked: “This is?”
Tang Thirty-Six answered: “This is a miniature world, you should have heard of it before.”
Chen Chang Sheng was silent, being well versed in The Books, he knew of the miniature world, but after experiencing today and having come to the miniature world in person, he better appreciated the shallowness of knowledge from books.
According to legend, upon the descent of the Heavenly Tomes, a divine fire also followed; causing fractures in the very space itself, leaving behind countless shards of space, these shards of space were scattered across the entire continent. While some of these shards were very unstable, and dissipated soon after appearing, some were conversely stable and could remain for a long period of time.
Through the long passage of time, after countless years had passed, the number of shards gradually diminished, leaving behind only the most stable of these shards. Leading to the origin of the phrase: “Time, is the only standard with which to judge the world.”
Stable shards were discovered by humanity, and through the fearsome use of great abilities by cultivators to activate them, using extremely high levelled and wondrous tools as the entrance, they managed to open a pathway between the shards and reality. These shards of space usually contained an exceedingly large space within, offering many uses, this was the miniature world.
The Wen Shui Tang family had a miniature world of their own, though it wasn’t very large, it was enough to place the Tang clan a level above the other so-called wealthy families. The reason for Tang Thirty-Six’s calm demeanour was due to having frequented his family’s miniature world as a child, being taken by his grandfather to play in the space.
“So this is… a blossom a world…”
Chen Chang Sheng looked at the scene of perfection, alongside towering edifices before him and felt a moment of emotion, then, for some unknown reason, looked at the small sword strapped around his waist.