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Illuminating the world and bringing warmth alongside light that was needed by all life, while not piercing the eyes with its blazing brilliance; sunset really wasn’t all that different from twilight. With the latter only appearing slightly later, but remaining resplendent.
Chen Chang Sheng had only started cultivating after arriving at the Capital from Xi Ning Village; it could be seen that he had yet to step upon the mountain trail by the time the Sun had already sunk to the West, yet, in the end, he had surpassed many of those that started out before him; to the point of matching those like Gou Han Shi, being one of the first to reach the peak.
“So he’s first upon the First Banner this year?”
“Is it really that person named Chen Chang Sheng?”
“Could there be a mistake somewhere?”
The crowd outside of Li Palace watched the youth from Orthodox Academy that was walking over slowly on the divine avenue under the twilight; discussions abounded and their faces were full of bewilderment, for even more of them, they were too shocked for words.
At the Ivy League gathering, Chen Chang Sheng had become famous in the Capital due to his betrothal to Xu You Rong, making him a target of animosity and ridicule for the citizenry, to the point where an adage was specially targeted to him – a toad wishes to dine on the Phoenix, dreams of absurdity.
On the day the Proclamation of Azure Clouds was updated, His Eminence had made a declaration in place of Chen Chang Sheng, that he would take first upon the First Banner in the Grand Examination, no one took it seriously, conversely, it led to even more mockery and derision, no one believed he would really be able to achieve it, and they all awaited Chen Chang Sheng’s reaction on having achieved nothing by the end of the examination.
This year’s examination was very lively, the populace was only concerned with how they could satisfyingly release their disdain towards the delusional Chen Chang Sheng that dreams of absurdity.
Yet, who could have guessed, delusion had actually become reality, beyond dreams, the absurd had actually happened, that youth from Orthodox Academy that couldn’t cultivate just a few months ago had really managed to take first upon the First Banner.
That’s correct, this year’s first upon the First Banner wasn’t Gou Han Shi, or anyone from the Divine State’s Seven Laws, neither was it Tian Hai Sheng Xue, Zhe Xiu, Zhuang Huan Yu or a young scholar from Scholartree Manor.
It was Chen Chang Sheng.
No one could bring themselves to believe this result, but it was the truth. A lot of people, especially those who had derided Chen Chang Sheng relentlessly before the Grand Examination, felt that their faces were a little hot, perhaps even aching.
Even if it was the truth, the populace still couldn’t accept it, couldn’t understand it. The silence within and without Li Palace was broken by the sound of discussion and information on specifics to the duel was rapidly disseminated.
At the next moment, both sides of the divine avenue and the area surrounding the palace, within and without, they all became quiet, until suddenly, an explosive clamour rang out.
Chen Chang Sheng had actually achieved Ethereal Opening during the examination’s duelling? And it was during the battle against Gou Han Shi? How could this possibly be the level previously displayed by Chen Chang Sheng.
Being able to take first place today at the Grand Examination, already had far too many legendary overtones, for him to have actually completed his Ethereal Opening during the examination could only further add to this.
Achieving Ethereal Opening at the age of fifteen? It had to be known what this signified?
The importance of this event, was almost comparable to first upon the First Banner for the Grand Examination.
The sunset shone upon the divine avenue at an angle, lengthening Chen Chang Sheng’s shadow to an enormous scale.
On both sides of the divine avenue, there were several academies that were directly under the administration of Li Palace, farther ahead, beyond the stone pillars, there were thousands upon thousands of citizenry, furthermore, under the shading of trees, there were the faint figures of many dignitaries.
No matter who they were, they all watched that youth who was on the divine avenue; they all had difficulty hiding the shock on their faces.
Su Mo Yu sat on a wheelchair that was pushed by a fellow student from Li Palace College; he was currently by the woods beside the avenue.
He gazed upon Chen Chang Sheng. Thinking back on the words he had said to him some days ago, his current mood was rather complicated.
Chen Chang Sheng turned his gaze towards him, dipping his head in acknowledgment. Under the stares of the masses, it was an inconvenient time for words, he used his gaze to query Su Mo Yu’s injuries, Su Mo Yu conveyed that they weren’t going to pose too much of a problem, he then solemnly performed a formal gesture of respect.
Chen Chang Sheng stilled his steps, calmly returning the gesture.
A lot of examinees that had completed the examination still remained and were also watching Chen Chang Sheng, but not everyone had the same decorum as Su Mo Yu; their expressions were extremely unsightly.
Zhuang Huan Yu sat in the horse carriage for Heavenly Academy, he lifted a corner of the window blind and watched the youth’s back, the youth that was slowly heading out of Li Palace under the focus of innumerable gazes. His pallid face revealed a bitter rejection of events, the inability to accept what had happened.
The four scholars of Scholartree Manor, with Zhong Hui as the lead, stood at a stele pavilion in the Northwestern corner of Li Palace, they stared at the distant Chen Chang Sheng, their faces revealing rage and disappointment.
That’s right, no matter how angry or bitter they were whilst watching Chen Chang Sheng, it could only end in disappointment, because from today onwards, their names that had once gleamed upon the Proclamation of Azure Clouds, in front of Chen Chang Sheng, they would become dull, completely lacking in any splendour, not to mention, they have perhaps even lost the qualification to compare with Chen Chang Sheng.
Their names all occupied a high position upon the Proclamation of Azure Clouds, and in the future, they will probably remain upon it, but Chen Chang Sheng’s name had never appeared on the proclamation, neither will it ever appear upon it.
On the Proclamation of Azure Clouds, Luo Luo had risen from ninth to second, Xu You Rong had wrested first place and Qiu Shan Jun had similarly done the same, directly causing the proclamation to suddenly update for the third time, shocking the entire continent.
What Chen Chang Sheng has achieved, was even more inconceivable.
He had never entered the Proclamation of Azure Clouds, and this year, he has no need to ever enter the proclamation, because he has already achieved Ethereal Opening, even if he was to enter a proclamation, it could only be the Proclamation of Golden Distinction, the same as the current Qiu Shan Jun and Gou Han Shi.
In other words, his cultivation had directly skipped over the stage for the Proclamation of Azure Clouds.
A normal person that had never cultivated. Upon starting to cultivate, having never entered the Proclamation of Azure Clouds, with their first appearance before the world, had directly entered the Proclamation of Golden Distinction; when has the world ever had such a person?
Those people within and without Li Palace were ceaselessly discussing this as it went through their stunned minds.
Some people could vaguely remember, that many years ago, Wang Zhi Ce seemed to have achieved something similar.
Chen Chang Sheng’s group of three, walked out of Li Palace, the crowd surged forwards akin to the tide.
A powerful presence sprang from the air, keeping the people at bay.
Jin Yu Lu held onto the reins, expressionlessly watching the citizenry that were incessantly crying out Chen Chang Sheng’s name. His attitude was very clear, whoever dared to draw near, would become a dead person.
Li Palace under the sunset, had become unusually rowdy due to Chen Chang Sheng; Jin Yu Lu’s fearsome reputation was enough to subdue the crowd and cause them not to dare draw close, but it couldn’t stop their stares or their clamour.
Thousands of shocked, curious and querying gazes, all congregated together, becoming even fiercer than the sunlight, to the point where Chen Chang Sheng even felt that his clothing had been set ablaze, his cheeks throbbing.
“Banner Lead Chen, Banner Lead Chen.”
“I humbly request Banner Lead Chen to rest for but a moment at my teahouse.”
“Banner Lead Chen, such a joyous time calls for wine, my Master presents this Huangzhou Zui.”
“Young master Tang, you haven’t visited my daughter for quite some time, on such a fine night, how could you possibly waste it…”
Countless voices drifted over from the crowd, continuously entering the ears of Chen Chang Sheng’s group, as the scene became increasingly lively, some people couldn’t care for Jin Yu Lu’s ice cold glare any longer and edged in closer, some of the slightly more daring ladies, then extended their arms to incessantly touch upon Tang Thirty-Six: a scene of chaos.
Chen Chang Sheng had obtained first upon the First Banner, it was obviously not something that could be considered jubilant and countless citizens of the Capital had lost money due to him, but their moods had already been replaced by the shock of witnessing such a miracle.
Not to mention, the conflict against the demon race had lasted for a thousand years, the human world had always only acknowledged the strong, idolising geniuses, how could the populace gathered here for the Grand Examination possibly ignore this opportunity?
Luckily, at that moment, the Li Palace clergy and officials from the Ministry of Personnel that were tasked with maintaining order, had rushed to the scene, under the fearsome reputation of His Grace, Zhou Tong, the masses finally quietened down.
Chen Chang Sheng walked to the horse carriage and sincerely performed a gesture of respect alongside Tang Thirty-Six and Xuan Yuan Po towards Jin Yu Lu.
Jin Yu Lu lightly stroked his thin beard, silently, with a small smile, being extremely pleased.
The reins were gently flicked and the carriage slowly moved, the surrounding crowd automatically parted to create a path; just as how it had been when they surged forwards earlier, it was a tide, a representation of some kind of attitude.
Of course, the ardent clamouring from the crowd remained incessant.
At the back of the carriage, Chen Chang Sheng lifted the window drape, turning back to gaze at the path they had taken, all he could see was that under the evening glow, at the end of the divine avenue and above the long staircase, the Hall of Clear Virtue looked as if it was blazing.
On the upper floor’s balustrade, a person’s figure could vaguely be seen, he guessed that it was probably Luo Luo and started to smile; then, he saw, beside an old tree by the divine avenue, the Archbishop standing, his body slightly crooked and his age apparent. No one drew near, making him appear very lonely, thus, the lips that had only just raised, relaxed, his smile slowly retracted.
The carriage’s wheels rolled across the green slabs while the clamour surrounding them continued without abating, it was as if the populace of the Capital were preparing to escort them all the way back to Orthodox Academy; those within the carriage naturally didn’t dare to lift the drape again.
“That ‘daughter’ of someone, what’s that about?” Chen Chang Sheng looked at Tang Thirty-Six and asked.
Tang Thirty-Six felt rather annoyed and sternly replied: “Who knows.”
Seeing his reaction, Chen Chang Sheng obviously wouldn’t continue questioning; thinking back on the situation outside of Li Palace, he sighed and said: “Only today have I come to understand why Zhou Du Fu’s younger brother would be stared to death by people… with the stares of so many people gathered at one point, it actually seemed even scarier than Gou Han Shi’s Secret Sword of the Golden Crow.”
Tang Thirty-Six laughed at him and said: “You should count yourself lucky, in comparison to previous years, upon leaving the palace, you would have had to fear getting abducted by the dignitaries in the Capital and we would have also had our share of that fortune.”
Chen Chang Sheng didn’t understand, asking: “What’s that about?”
Tang Thirty-Six replied: “First upon the First Banner in the Grand Examination is obviously a prime choice for a son-in-law, how could those personages possibly miss such an opportunity? How could those prurient girls possibly let go of you?”
Chen Chang Sheng finally understood what he meant, thinking back on those hands, that were quietly extended towards Tang Thirty-Six during the surge of people, those fine and slender hands that were full of adulation and longing, he laughed and said: “If they were to abduct someone, then it would be you.”
Tang Thirty-Six retorted in an annoyed voice: “I really dislike talking to you.”
Chen Chang Sheng asked: “You spoke of ‘previous years’, why is this year different?”
Tang Thirty-Six stared at his eyes and said, in a stern tone of voice: “Do you really not understand or are you pretending not to understand? You are currently betrothed to Xu You Rong, who would dare to snatch you from her hands?”
Xu Shi Ji returned to the Divine General of the Eastern Decree’s Estate, his face still remained the same as it had for all this time, as if it had been frozen by the early Spring’s chill winds, making it impossible for others to tell what he was currently feeling.
After being engrossed for a moment by a warm wind in the drawing room, his body and mood alike, slightly relaxed. Yet, upon thinking of the words from the officials and bishops back at the Li Palace side hall, his expression became even colder.
The Grand Examination had already acquired its banner lists, but the official release wasn’t till tomorrow, therefore, court officials and personages from the Orthodoxy didn’t have to make an appearance and had waited in a side hall as they conversed and had tea.
Upon the end to the duelling, he had also gone there for a while, but he could have never expected that he would hear no less than ten sounds of congratulations.
Congratulations, congratulations… congratulations for what? It was obviously for Chen Chang Sheng obtaining first upon the First Banner; for the Divine General’s Estate to have obtained such a fine son-in-law, what reason could he have for being unhappy?
Xu Shi Ji was obviously not happy, those words of congratulation were obviously mocking him, therefore, how could his expression possibly be good.
He sat within the chair and closed his eyes, remaining quiet for a long period of time.
Night came and the candle flames within the room lightly swayed, suddenly, a light drizzle fell within the courtyard. Drizzles of early Spring were often even colder than Winter snow, yet, his expression became warmer.
Because this spell of rain made him remember the ones that happened within the Tower of Purging Dust. He turned his gaze towards his wife and said: “On the day the banners are released, prepare a banquet. It doesn’t have to be overly extravagant, familial is fine.”
Madam Xu could faintly deduce his intent, she felt rather stunned and speechless.
A familial banquet, was obviously a family dinner.