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A long period of time passed; Chen Chang Sheng estimated the time to be now early in the morning, thus, he raised his body and expressed to the Black Dragon that the lessons for tonight should come to an end.
The Black Dragon was clearly unhappy, but graciously allowed him to leave. He raised his head to look at the underground cavern’s arched ceiling; looking at the bottom of the abandoned well from his location, all that could be seen was a small black dot that didn’t let in any of the morning light. How was he going to get back up? Upon remembering the process used to leave this place last time, his expression changed; he started taking off his clothing as quickly as he could, before stowing them away. In his concentration, he failed to notice that while he was doing all this, the Black Dragon had an evident look of nervousness and revulsion in its eyes. A bright flash of light went by and Chen Chang Sheng’s body disappeared from the ground. The Black Dragon looked at the ground, its whiskers fluttering gently; this wasn’t a farewell, but a gesture, expressing that he should quickly come back again. At the next moment, Chen Chang Sheng returned to solid ground once more. It was that sub palace within the Imperial Palace and that same pond. He left the pond and reached the edge, after checking to make sure there was no one around, he quickly took out his clothing and got dressed. The early morning was bright, but Autumn is cold; a breeze came in from the side of the palace and within a short while, made it chokingly cold. Even with many years of taking medicinal decoctions to reinforce his muscles and bone, it was too much to bear. Which path should he take next? He hugged himself with his arms, and started recalling the route he took that night, suddenly, he saw the Black Goat at the opposite end of the pond. This surprised him; he slowly let go of his arms – every time he had trouble knowing where to go, the Black Goat would show up. The middle-aged woman wasn’t here today, but the Black Goat still appeared. He was beginning to find this peculiar and started feeling that there had to be some sort of secret connection behind all of this. Yet he did not know whom to question, since asking the Black Goat would definitely not yield an answer. He walked over to the opposite side of the pond. The Black Goat lightly nudged his knees, just as it had for the previous occasions and then started leading the way. Unknown as to if it was due to being too early in the morning or some other reason, the Imperial Palace was devoid of people this morning, even servants that should have been tasked with sweeping the grounds could not be seen; with this, one person and one goat, easily reached the palace walls. Ivy snaked across the palace wall, between the ivy, the faint outline of an old door could be seen, on the door was a lock. A key was hung on the Black Goat’s collar. Chen Chang Sheng took the key and unlocked the door, he then entered the quiet path and shortly arrived back at Orthodox Academy. This wasn’t the path used by the middle-aged woman, it was the one used by Mo Yu. Chen Chang Sheng wanted to place the key back onto the Black Goat’s collar, but the Black Goat leaned its head to the side, refusing. He considered for a while before saying a word of thanks, then stowed away the key. The Black Goat returned to the Imperial Palace and the old door was once again closed shut. After this incident, life seemed to be calm and peaceful. The Divine Empress’ intent was conveyed by Mo Yu to all the major powers within the Capital; Orthodox Academy’s entrance was still in a state of disrepair; no one dared to come looking for trouble, Jin Yu Lu had replaced the function of a front gate; with a teapot in hand and lying down upon a bamboo chair representing the gates being closed. Chen Chang Sheng continued with what he was doing before, studiously reading and cultivating every day and making adjustments in preparation for the Grand Examination, this included perusing exam papers from the last examination. Other than that, he would take Tang Thirty-Six and Xuan Yuan Po to the Hundred Herb Garden across the wall in order to obtain large quantities of medicinal herbs. Xuan Yuan Po’s injury to his right arm had completely healed and Chen Chang Sheng found a suitable skill for him to practise, it was just unknown as to how much could he improve by, by the time of the Grand Examination. As the most favoured young master of the Wen Shui Tang family, Tang Thirty-Six’s participation in the Grand Examination was naturally held to be of great importance to the clan. Though the Old Master had heavily chastised him in a letter for leaving Heavenly Academy without his consent, the supplies provided for Tang were not reduced and had instead, increased. It seemed the Tang family were aware of events in the Capital and knew very well about Orthodox Academy’s current situation. Apart from this, the Education Board also provided Orthodox Academy with a lot of benefits, Minister Xin personally oversaw all the arrangements. The biggest contributor in the end, was Luo Luo; she took the medicinal herbs she was given by Chen Chang Sheng and prepared them according to instructions provided, refining them into medicinal pills, which were subsequently sent to the academy alongside a large number of other supplies. Preparations were complete and all that was needed was seemingly to await the date of the Grand Examination, yet upon this moment, a small incident occurred. One morning in early Winter, after Chen Chang Sheng had completed his routine of using Starlight to Purify and returned to the dorm from the library, he once again caught sight of Mo Yu. Lady Mo Yu’s cascading black hair was loosely sprawled around her shoulders, but she wasn’t asleep, she had her hands on her waist and was standing by the bedside with a scowl on her face; giving the appearance of someone that was intentionally looking for a quarrel. This was an appearance Chen Chang Sheng had seen a lot of recently; every day after waking Tang Thirty-Six, he would see something similar, this was the so-called “bed rising mood”; in other words, bad sleep. “What’s wrong?” Even though Orthodox Academy and Mo Yu were enemies, he was still very curious about the reason for her current appearance, he was certain that the pillow contained fresh medicinal herbs that were beneficial to resting the mind. Mo Yu flipped up the bedding and pointed at some scattered crystals that were lying on the bed, angrily saying: “If you don’t want me to sleep here, then all you have to do is tell me, at the very least, you shouldn’t have placed these stones to spite me.” This wasn’t the case, but from her perspective, this was Chen Chang Sheng intentionally spiting her. Chen Chang Sheng couldn’t understand; the crystals were provided by the Wen Shui Tang family and Luo Luo, they contained the property of jade essence, when used during meditation, it could greatly raise the absorption rate of Star Brilliance, which was why he had stuffed the crystals under his bedding. For the Grand Examination, he hadn’t left any details to chance. “I added two layers of bedding and tried it myself, the crystals can’t be felt at all.” He explained to Mo Yu. Mo Yu didn’t say anything, thinking to herself, if he knew that Ping Guo would be able to feel a single pea under ten layers of bedding and that it would stop her from sleeping, he definitely wouldn’t be able to understand. From outside the window, snow suddenly began falling; this was the first snow. From within the window, it suddenly turned quiet, the two of them looked at each other silently, with the atmosphere turning a little awkward. It was at this moment that Mo Yu realised her anger was unreasonable, while Chen Chang Sheng realised he didn’t have any need to proffer an explanation. This was in his room and it was his bed, he didn’t have any friendly feelings for her and they were, in fact, enemies. Mo Yu left and didn’t come to Orthodox Academy again till the Grand Examination, it seems she finally realised how ridiculous her actions were. Yet, on the second day, Chen Chang Sheng found that his bedding and pillow had disappeared. So this was acceptable? He lifted his sleeve and had a sniff, but couldn’t detect any scent. Why did Luo Luo and the Black Goat enjoy smelling him? Now, even someone like Lady Mo Yu was… Chen Chang Sheng couldn’t bring himself to feel any gratification, as a person with mild mysophobia, the thought of Mo Yu hugging his bedding each night to sleep was something difficult to accept. Time passed by, the pleasure brought on by the first snow had already faded. Daily snow in the Capital was already commonplace, with the fading of Autumn and the arrival of Winter, the cold gradually deepened; the date of the Grand Examination fast approached. Chen Chang Sheng knew that it was no longer the time for hesitation, hence, he stopped hesitating. There were only days left till the Grand Examination, without a word to anyone, under the cover of a morning blizzard, he left the academy and travelled to New North Bridge. The gold-like leaves had been covered by the snow and the Capital’s famous landmark was now something that could only be seen next year; tourists were absent and apart from the palace guards that were stationed afar or the barely visible flying carriages that were leaving trails in the skies above, nothing else could be seen here. It wasn’t that there was nothing here; from afar, there was a fur wearing palace servant, taking two snow mastiffs for a stroll. Snow mastiffs were not canines, but were large monsters that would accompany human cultivators in battle. They were from the Black Rock Mountains situated outside of Old Snow City and were suited to the cold but unsuited to heat, he did not know how did they manage to live in the Capital. Someone that could own snow mastiffs was obviously not a regular person; the two snow mastiffs were not white in colour, but of a light yellow. The snow was falling heavily and the yellow mastiff slowly turned white, the now white mastiff then slowly turned plump. Before the palace walls, white snow abounded, the country was unified, and upon the ground there was a black void. That was the well. Chen Chang Sheng walked up to the well and gave the faraway palace servant and mastiffs a single glance; upon confirming that they hadn’t noticed him, he leapt down. On the surface, a blizzard enmeshed the skies, yet under the surface, the blizzard didn’t stop, this was caused by every breath the Black Dragon took. For some days now, Chen Chang Sheng had come to see the Black Dragon multiple times and was no longer as nervous as he was initially, with not knowing how to stand or where to even place his hands. The Black Dragon was pleased with his understanding of dragon speech, but was very displeased with the frequency at which he was visiting; though it was a dragon, it understood the importance of the Grand Examination to humans, so it didn’t request more. The dragon whiskers lightly danced, clearing away the shattered ice and snow that were in front of Chen Chang Sheng. Chen Chang Sheng brought out several packages wrapped in oily paper and some novels that could be commonly found in the markets and placed them on the ground in a familiar manner. Opening the oily paper revealed roast lamb, roast chicken, roast deer tail, brined ox tongue and a steamed double-headed fish. “Leave the ox tongue for me.” Upon thinking that the Black Dragon had been imprisoned for hundreds of years, lonely and pitiful, without having had food for a long time, Chen Chang Sheng brought food with him every time he came to visit. The quantities were obviously not enough to fill the Black Dragon, but it was sufficient to ease its hunger. At the start, the Black Dragon had turned its nose at the food, putting on the airs of: “I used to eat people at the palace without batting an eyelash”, but upon eating the food, it didn’t show any sign of holding back. “I’ve decided.” Chen Chang Sheng had waited with extreme patience for the Black Dragon to slowly finish savouring the food before saying those words. The Black Dragon stared at him like as if it was looking at an idiot. After several meetings, it already knew what Chen Chang Sheng had in mind. Lowly humans could only possess frail bodies, until they had successfully completed Purification, to enter introspective meditation was only seeking death. Though it hadn’t studied overly diligently under its Royal Father, it fully understood such a basic concept. In truth, Chen Chang Sheng also understood, the possibility of success was next to impossible; within the Three Thousand Scriptures of The Way, there wasn’t a single record of previous success. But he had to commit to this, because the Grand Examination was imminent. He had to obtain the first position upon the First Banner, only with this, could he enter the Ling Yan (Ascending Mist) Pavilion and meditate for an entire night. Only with this, did he have the chance of touching upon a fate changing opportunity. Only with this, did he have the possibility of living past 20 years. Without this, there wasn’t much difference between 20 years and 15 years. That’s correct, as he was going through his methodical and dull cultivation practice, he had already reached 15 years of age. Subtracting 15 years from 20, left him with 5 years. Subtracting 20 years from 500, would still be close to 500 years. He wanted to bet 5 years for 500. He really wanted to live for another 500 years. Seeing the expression on Chen Chang Sheng’s face, the Black Dragon knew that he was serious. The Black Dragon’s gaze gradually became stern, it planned upon stopping him. If you were to die, who would talk to me, who would help me complete that task? Chen Chang Sheng didn’t let out a single word, and only looked at the Black Dragon; it knew it couldn’t stop him. The Black Dragon’s expression became slightly inflamed. Chen Chang Sheng removed the short sword from his waist and while looking at it, he said: “If I were to die…” The Black Dragon took one look at the short sword and immediately composed itself. Chen Chang Sheng considered for a moment, then said: “Forget it, death is death, leaving behind last words won’t serve any real purpose.” The Black Dragon’s stern gaze gradually changed to calm, and finally, respect. Any life that could calmly face and challenge death was worthy of respect. Be they dragon, demon, yao or human; or even just a sparrow. It remembered its Royal Father telling it those words. Due to respect, it no longer tried to stop Chen Chang Sheng, its dragon whiskers fluttered, lightly touching him upon the brow before returning. Chen Chang Sheng sat down and picked up the ox tongue he had reminded the Black Dragon to leave for him. At the age of ten, upon knowing he wouldn’t live past twenty, he had stopped eating unhealthy, yet delicious foods such as ox tongue. He began to eat, seriously savouring each part with a look of satisfaction on his face. After eating the ox tongue and drinking some water, he dusted off some snow that was on him, wiped his hands clean, and rubbed his face to raise his concentration. Having completed all preparations, he closed his eyes and began his introspective meditation.