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The scholar from Scholartree Manor was slightly rotund in shape and his face was sickly pale, it seems he wasn’t used to exposing himself to the sun. In his exchange with the lector from Temple Seminary he had kept his gaze on Chen Chang Sheng and Luo Luo, he maintained an expressionless face, but the edge of his lips faintly lifted, indicating that he was giving a warning and ridiculing them.
Chen Chang Sheng felt that these people were thinking far too much, shaking his head he decided to ignore it. He patted Luo Luo’s hand to indicate that she should choose her entrance. Luo Luo had indeed wished to help him in the martial phase, being obstructed made her feel rather cross and she coldly glared at the scholar from Scholartree Manor.
The scholar from Scholartree Manor, upon thinking of Luo Luo’s status, immediately began having feelings of regret, yet, words that have left the mouth cannot return, so he instead placed his hands behind his back and feigned the persona of someone that had righteously spoken out in the name justice.
After the instructions from the lector had finished, the twenty odd examinees began spreading out, following along the perimeter of the forest to look for entrances; this sea of trees was certainly as vast as any regular sea, making it impossible to capture its entirety within one’s sights and thus, impossible to determine as to which entrance would grant the best advantage; you could only rely upon intuition or luck for the choice.
Chen Chang Sheng had never been one to believe in intuition or fate and decided upon the entrance closest to himself; Luo Luo unhesitatingly chose the entrance next to it. His choice was entirely arbitrary and Luo Luo had followed suit, examinees that saw this couldn’t help feeling envious and wistful.
It didn’t take long for the examinees to finish choosing their entrance points, at this moment, several dozen clergy members from Li Palace suddenly appeared with brush and book in hand and started recording the name and school of examinees within, alongside the current time; this was to represent their starting time for the Martial Trial.
None of the examinees rashly rushed into the Dallying Forest – a labyrinth designed by Wang Zhi Ce couldn’t possibly be rushed through by blind luck. The examinees stopped outside of the evergreen forest, with some sitting down upon rocks on the edge of the path, some leaning against available trees, whilst others decided to directly sit on the ground; no matter what their choice was, they all closed their eyes and began meditating, beginning to spread out their divine sense.
Only two didn’t have their eyes closed.
Gou Han Shi and Tian Hai Sheng Xue stood outside of the forest area, silently gazing at the sea of trees, unknown as to what they were contemplating.
Twenty odd divine senses drifted towards the Dallying Forest, some strong, some weak, with faint traces of different presences within – individual differences in divine sense was something only experts at the realm of Star Fusion and above could roughly distinguish, even someone like the lector from Temple Seminary wasn’t able to discern the difference through perception alone.
The lector and several clergy members from Li Palace that had come to keep records all had their gazes focused upon Chen Chang Sheng, the same way the examiners had during the academic phase.
Chen Chang Sheng, who had declared his intention to place first upon the First Banner was the focal point of the exam today, favourites such as Gou Han Shi and Tian Hai Sheng Xue, in contrast, did not garner much interest; they were strong cultivators that had already passed into the Ethereal Opening realm, while Chen Chang Sheng remained an unknown element.
Everyone in the Capital knew that up to 10 days prior, Chen Chang Sheng had yet to successfully complete his Purification, but how strong was his divine sense? Had he determined his Fated Star? If he had successfully determined his Fated Star, then why has he been unable to complete Purification? Did this not suggest that his divine sense was pitifully weak?
Everyone was very interested in how far he could progress in the Grand Examination; could he complete this Dallying Forest? It would at least allow him to avoid disqualification in this martial phase.
The thought of disqualification had never crossed the mind of Chen Chang Sheng, especially after gaining information on this year’s topic.
He sat near the edge of the forest on a drooping Cloud Pine, legs crossed, eyes closed, fists loosely overhanging; his divine sense had already left his body, entering the sea of trees.
The barriers that were created by trees and the pathways that densely crisscrossed between, through the perception of his divine sense they became a vague pattern within the sea of his consciousness; the scenery before him that existed in reality had changed in colour, becoming distorted. Ordinary people seeing this scene would find it very mysterious, but for cultivators, to reform this into an image matching reality was not difficult.
Especially for those who had a strong and stable divine sense.
Chen Chang Sheng’s divine sense was extremely stable and strong, otherwise, his Fated Star would not have been located in such a faraway location and Luo Luo would never had climbed over the walls of the Hundred Herb Garden to look for him at the academy.
He closed his eyes and used his divine sense to perceive the paths within the Dallying Forest, it did not take long for him to finish investigating this sea of trees.
It had to be said that the planning behind the Grand Examination was well thought out. Using divine sense to perceive this sea of trees was something very similar to the process of searching for a Fated Star and introspective meditation; from the perspective of the topic setter, it evidently indicated that an examinee had to be at least in the Meditative Realm in order to pass through this forest.
Chen Chang Sheng suddenly had a thought; Wang Zhi Ce had often played this game alongside his studying, did he use it as a method to train his divine sense? It was well known on the continent that Wang Zhi Ce did not have a particularly strong divine sense, otherwise he would not have only started on the path of cultivation in his middle-age.
His divine sense drifted within the sea of trees, at the same time, many other divine senses were also acting similarly. He could nebulously sense the existence of these other divine senses, but had no method of interacting with them, as he continued probing the forest, he discovered more presences, it seems a lot of examinees were still entangled within the Dallying Forest.
The scholars from Scholartree Manor had their brows locked in a frown as they meditated with their eyes closed. Other examinees were in a similar state, with slightly pained expressions – only by examining the forest in its entirety could you form an image of the design in your mind, only through this could you begin to analyse the route that should be taken – for these youthful cultivators that had limited experience, it was a difficult task.
At this moment, Gou Han Shi began heading towards the forest, Tian Hai Sheng Xue started momentarily after; they soon disappeared amidst the budding green growth of Spring.
The Ethereal Opening realm was indeed on a different level.
The Hall of Zhao Wen was very quiet.
Upon the ending of the Academic Exam, major figures such as His Eminence, The Archbishop; Mo Yu; Prince Chen Liu; Mao Qiu Yu and several others, arrived at the Hall of Zhao Wen.
There were constant reports on the Martial Trial coming in, carried by the clergy of Li Palace; Gou Han Shi and Tian Hai Sheng Xue entering the forest did not elicit any sort of reaction from those present; the Ethereal Opening realm should at least be capable of this. In their eyes, the two had been rather overly cautious.
At the moment Gou Han Shi and Tian Hai Sheng Xue entered the forest, an examinee exited, completing the first half of the Martial Trial.
This person was Liang Ban Hu, the Divine State’s Fifth Law.
This was equally unsurprising to the major figures in the Hall, they had a familiarity with ability of participants in this year’s examination; discounting Gou Han Shi, the other three youths from Li Shan Sword Sect were very noticeable in strength, for someone amongst them to be the first to leave the Dallying Forest was very reasonable. Prince Chen Liu asked with some curiosity: “What about Guan Fei Bai?”
The next person to leave the Dallying Forest wasn’t Guan Fei Bai, but… Zhuang Huan Yu.
This finally caused a stir within the hall, gazes turned towards Mao Qiu Yu and Prince Chen Liu gave a few congratulatory words. It was evident that Zhuang Huan Yu had not been neglecting his training for these past few years after defeating Qi Jian; from the strength of his divine sense, even though he had been demoted on the Proclamation of Azure Clouds to rank 11, he clearly had strength comparable to the top 10.
“Guan Fei Bai couldn’t place first; not even second at that, I wonder how angry should he currently look.”
The principal of Li Palace College said in a slightly mocking tone; the people of Zhou had long held ambivalent views on disciples from the Southern Domain’s sects.
The first half of the Martial Trial did not rank examinees on who could first leave the Dallying Forest, but was based upon the time they had spent traversing the labyrinth. The people gathered within the Hall of Zhao Wen had obtained records of starting times and knew that Liang Ban Hu, Guan Fei Bai and Zhuang Huan Yu started at the same time; having exited the forest, meant that Zhuang Huan Yu was in front of Guan Fei Bai.
At this moment, the principal examiner from the academic phase shook their head and said: “Liang Ban Hu was not first, Zhuang Huan Yu was not second, this means Guan Fei Bai will not even rank third.”
Li Palace College’s principal lightly frowned and said: “Are we to include Gou Han Shi and young master Tian Hai?”
The principal examiner replied: “Before your arrival, someone had already left the Dallying Forest, his time was shorter than Liang Ban Hu by a third.”
Upon hearing those words, the people gathered here felt shocked, questioning gazes promptly followed, only The Archbishop, who was seated in the centre, continued to have his eyes closed, akin to someone that was asleep.
Someone had managed to finish faster than Liang Ban Hu, and to such an extent, how strong was their divine sense?
“Who was it?” asked Li Palace College’s principal in a shocked voice.
“Their registered name is Zhang Ting Tao (Listening to waves), though of course, we all know who this person is.”
The principal examiner looked towards the principal of Star Seizer Academy and mischievously said: “Though it is a fake persona, isn’t the name overly common?”
The principal of Star Seizer Academy had the bearing of a general of the Zhou Empire, without showing any sign of evasiveness, he replied: “He was willing to represent Star Seizer Academy, he can call himself whatever he likes.”
Everyone agreed with this in their minds.
“The wrathful Zhe Xiu…” said Prince Chen Liu rather forlornly, “I’m really curious as to how did he grow up.”
The principal of Li Palace College said: “I’m more curious about Chen Chang Sheng’s current status.”
Hearing those words, everyone’s gazes fell upon His Eminence, The Archbishop.
The principal examiner said: “Chen Chang Sheng’s results for the Academic Exam will definitely be exceptional, it’s only a matter of who will be first and who will be second between him and Gou Han Shi.”
Everyone present believed this to be the only natural possibility.
Li Palace College’s principal looked at His Eminence, The Archbishop, who was seemingly asleep and derisively said: “No matter how exceptional the result in the Academic Exam, if you cannot pass the Dallying Forest, it becomes meaningless. You would be directly disqualified and can’t even enter the Three Grades, let alone first place upon the First Banner. I wonder if someone would be able to continue sleeping so peacefully when that happens.”
The Hall of Zhao Wen was blanketed in silence, without anyone saying anything.
Within the Capital and the Orthodoxy, the principals of the six Ivy League schools had a unique position. For figures such as Mao Qiu Yu and the principal of Li Palace College, they had no need to fear anyone. Everyone within the hall knew that the principal of Li Palace College was a member of the new faction within the Orthodoxy and, like the Bishop of Temple Seminary, had close ties with the Tian Hai family.
His Eminence’s declaration in place of Chen Chang Sheng was undoubtedly a major affront towards Li Palace College, Heavenly Academy and other similar schools. It was clear that the principal of Li Palace College was getting ready for a countermove; the moment Chen Chang Sheng failed to place first upon the First Banner, the Education Board and His Eminence, The Archbishop would suffer intense criticism and possibly even a direct offensive.
As with the words from before; to fail to even cross the Dallying Forest, what hope was there for placing first upon the First Banner?
Time slowly passed by and after an unknown amount of time, a clergy member entered the hall, reporting: “Chen Chang Sheng of Orthodox Academy has started to enter the forest.”
Everyone present was surprised, the principal of Li Palace College arched his brow to the point where it seemed it might fly away, his eyes full of shock and doubt.
“How could he be faster than the group from Scholartree Manor?”