Jing Yue turned around and saw that the man who spoke was dressed in purple. His features were ordinary, even a little honest, but the look was quite arrogant.
When Zheng Bai saw the other party, his expression immediately turned cold. “So it’s Daoist An.”
The purple-robed man raised his thick eyebrows that looked like a wiggling caterpillar. His mouth curled in a smile and said, “Is Daoist Zheng going to the Nine Heaven Academy? Are you a recommended disciple of Frostcloud Sect?”
Zheng Bai’s expression drooped. He relied on his family to get him a letter of recommendation.
Zheng Bai, who was trampled on his sore spot, said crudely, “No!”
The man in purple did not clarify if Zheng Bai’s reply was to the first or second question, but his response was quite intriguing, and coupled with his triumphant expression, Zheng Bai’s face was burning up.
“Zheng Bai, this is…”
Jing Yue abruptly said, and the man in purple finally noticed him, a kid who had just established the foundation, but he was born beautifully. He subconsciously showed an evil smile but found that Zheng Bai's expression instantly became respectful. “Replying to Laozu, he is An Wenxing, a disciple of the Mauve Aurora Sect.”
An Wenxing’s pupils constricted and his heart skipped a beat.
Everyone knew that there was a ‘child patriarch’ in Frostcloud Sect. Although it was not clear how old he was, he must be very young for sure! Was this the one?
But he immediately relaxed again, because the opponent's cultivation base was not as good as his.
Some people were like this. When they had been apprehensive of someone, but accidentally found that the other person was not fearsome, they would transform this variance into contempt or even anger.
An Wenxing was not angry, but there was contempt.
But he changed his mind almost immediately. This child patriarch was already a Foundation Establishment cultivator at such a young age and could be considered very powerful. Thus, his heart shuddered and he said respectfully, “Greetings to the Laozu.”
“Mm,” Jing Yue answered mildly. “Are you a disciple recommended by the Mauve Aurora Sect?”
There was pride on An Wenxing’s face. “Exactly.”
Jing Yue explored with his divine consciousness and praised, “You’re less than a hundred years old but already a mid-level Foundation Establishment cultivator. It’s amazing.”
Surprise flashed in An Wenxing's eyes. As expected of the Laozu indeed. His realm was higher but he could still identify his cultivation base and bone age. He must have a secret treasure on him.
“You’re too kind. Wenxing forged the body for ten years and Qi refining for more than 30 years. I just stepped into the mid-level of Foundation Establishment in my forties. It’s really not that great.”
Even though An Wenxing's tone was modest, his words were anything but.
Jing Yue nodded slightly and said to Zheng Bai, “You’re the same age and level as Daoist An. Why do people get a recommendation from the sect, but you could only rely on your family to prepare a letter of recommendation for you? It's too unbelievable!”
An Wenxing smiled reservedly, but Zheng Bai said with a bitter face, “Laozu, Frostcloud Sect is the top cultivation school in the world. There are countless people with excellent talents within the gates, like a sea of stars. As dull as I am, how can I be qualified to be recommended?”
Jing Yue, “That’s true.”
The flippant remarks from the two made blue phoenix flapped its wings and chirped delightfully, but An Wenxing was so angry that he almost vomited blood. He knew that he had been played by Jing Yue, but the status of the other party was there. He could only sputter a few awkward words and then left in a hurry.
After he was gone, Jing Yue asked Zheng Bai, “Is he at odds with you?”
Zheng Bai, “It was simply because I lost one place to him in the previous bamboo-picking event. Both of us are ranked well into the tens of thousands. I really don’t know what he is so proud of?”
Jing Yue knew that the bamboo-picking event was a competition between Foundation Establishment cultivators.
It was recorded in the scrolls the existence of a Sky Bamboo in the Green Bamboo Sanctuary, a cultivation school that specialized in talismans located in the lower South region. This bamboo was towering high with lush branches and leaves. It was said that each leaf was a natural formation and contained different tests.
The cultivators participating in the competition would climb the sky bamboo together. The first person who climbed the summit and picked the bamboo core was called the Bamboo Picker and would receive a generous gift prepared by Green Bamboo Sanctuary.
The cultivators who performed well in each bamboo picking event would mostly occupy a place on the Flying Immortal List in the near future.
However… being ranked in the tens of thousands… was it really necessary?
Jing Yue asked suspiciously, “That’s it?”
“… Also, he’s a disciple of Mauve Aurora Sect,” Zheng Bai said hesitantly. “As Laozu know, Mauve Aurora Sect was inherited from the big sect Mauve Palace before the Yao Catalyst. Now, they have three Return to Void Laozu guarding the sect and even more talented disciples like Chao Yu. Chao-zhenren has only been cultivating for 140 years and already formed a core, not less talented than Qin-zhenjun back then.”
Zheng Bai seemed to be a little embarrassed and continued gingerly, “Although Frostcloud Sect is the top cultivation school in the world, there are few talents in the recent years, not to mention amazing people like Qin-zhenjun and Chao-zhenren. Also, at Yi Ye-laozu’s age…”
Zheng Bai stopped abruptly, his face turned pale, and he looked at Jing Yue timidly.
The latter came to a realization. How could he not understand his unfinished words?
Currently, Frostcloud Sect was reliant on Yi Ye to intimidate the various factions, but his lifespan was no more than a thousand years. Moreover, the number of Return to Void cultivators in Frostcloud Sect didn't surpass those of the Mauve Aurora Sect, and the younger disciples were not that much promising either.
The decline of Frostcloud Sect was already quite apparent, while the Mauve Aurora Sect was akin to a rising star, so they would inevitably be restless.
—They think too much.
In this regard, that was Jing Yue’s conclusion.
Back when he entered the inner gates pretending to be Jing Shan, he already knew that Mauve Aurora Sect was hostile toward Frostcloud Sect. If Frostcloud Sect continued to decay from within, perhaps Mauve Aurora Sect might catch up after a thousand years.
However, that was only a possibility.
Crossing over from the Return to Void stage to the Tribulation Passage stage was extremely difficult, not to mention that there were only three Return to Void cultivators in Mauve Aurora Sect. Even if they had hundreds, who dared to guarantee that they would definitely break through to the next stage? Or, who could say that the next cultivator that succeeded would not be Liu Feng or Liu Yun from Frostcloud Sect instead?
Besides, now that Frostcloud Sect had changed drastically, with flourishing vitality within the gates now, and he was also there to complement the sect with new cultivation techniques and pill formulas, how could Yi Ye’s lifespan be limited? Mauve Aurora Sect was simply counting the chickens before they were hatched!
“Do you know what they call me outside?”
Jing Yue asked suddenly, catching Zheng Bai off guard.
“They call me the child patriarch.”
Zheng Bai said anxiously, “Laozu, those ignorant rats are just talking nonsense!”
Jing Yue smiled nonchalantly. “But they also call me the auspicious person, don’t they?”
Zheng Bai startled momentarily before grinning broadly.
That’s right! Laozu was not even eighteen and he was already a Foundation Establishment cultivator. Maybe he could form a golden core in less than a hundred years. By then, not to mention Chao-zhenren, even Qin-zhenjun couldn’t compare!
Furthermore, since he was an auspicious person, maybe his luck could even rub off on one or two Return to Void cultivators…
The more Zheng Bai thought about it, the more confident he got, and he said loudly, “I understand! With Laozu around, our sect is blessed with the lucky star and will definitely prevail until the end of time, so how could any Tom, Dick, or Harry challenge our honor?”
Jing Yue reluctantly praised, “Your comprehension is commendable.”
They strolled around until the sun hung low before Elder Wang finally arrived.
With a wave of his hand, the tycoon brought everyone to the most expensive inn in Bliss City, and each person even got one room to themselves, extremely extravagant.
A night without words.
The next day, the Frostcloud Sect entourage arrived at the foot of Nine Heaven Mountain early in the morning.
There were a total of nine connected mountain peaks on Nine Heaven Mountain, formed by strangely-shaped rocks, steep and dangerous. The two sides of the first summit were planted with green bamboo. When the wind blew, the bamboo leaves rustle, and the bamboo forest flowed and stretched like a vast ocean.
Jing Yue walked on the mountain road and saw many cultivators, both men and women of different ages, some of whom even gray-haired and full of vicissitudes.
“Oh, he’s here again.”
Jing Yue followed Elder Wang’s gaze and saw an old man with white hair and beard. He asked, “Who is he?”
“He's a rogue cultivator. I saw him the last couple of times when I took the disciples up the mountain. I heard that his lifespan is fast approaching the end, but he has not found a chance to form the golden core, so he wanted to have a try at the Nine Heaven Academy. But this person has taken the test seven or eight times without passing. I really wonder where he got so many letters of recommendation from.”
Jing Yue was a little surprised and couldn’t help thinking of the imperial examinations for mortals. How many students had taken the exam from a young age to an old age without fulfilling their dream? He shook his head and said, “This person’s obsession has become his inner demon. I’m afraid he won’t make it this time either.”
Halfway up the mountain, they came across the boundary stone with the characters of Nine Heaven Academy engraved on it, plus a line of smaller characters next to it.
“There are roads of diligence in the path of books, and boats of perseverance in the endless pursuit of knowledge.” Jing Yue chanted with praise.
Elder Wang said with a smile, “This is a saying by Luo-zhenjun, the founder of Nine Heaven Academy, and has now become a famous saying among ordinary students.”
“Ji-ji calls bullsh*t!” Blue phoenix huffed in dissatisfaction. “This is blatant plagiarism. The original author was a literati named Han Yu from a small world. The whole article is quite long.”
It paused briefly before continuing, “But Ji-ji has a photographic memory. If Jing-jing promises to tell me about your seven habits, I'll recite them to you.”
Blue phoenix, “…”
After passing the boundary stone, they had officially entered the enchantment barrier of Nine Heaven Academy.”
The scenery seemed no different than before, the mountain and the bamboo forest still looked the same, but many people walking with Jing Yue exclaimed in astonishment.
In front of them, they saw a long stair extending to the extreme end, as if reaching towards the clouds and sun, unattainable.
Clear water flowed down the stone steps as if coming from the sky, and a few bamboo leaves floating leisurely on the water surface, the scenery full of poetry.
Someone exclaimed in surprise, “How is this stone step moving up by itself?”
“I’ve heard before that the stone steps of Nine Heaven Academy are different from others. It seems to be some sort of mechanism maintained by spirit stones. As long as people stand on top of it, they don’t have to do anything to reach the top of the mountain.”
“Last time I visited, some seniors said that the name of this stone step is the Heavenly Ladder, and it also means to send people up to the heavens, soaring thousands of miles in the air.”
“How do we get down then?”
“The way down the mountain is on another peak. The stone step is exactly like this one, just in the opposite direction.”
Everyone was chatting enthusiastically while blue phoenix pecked at its feathers disdainfully. Wasn’t this a normal escalator? These people were so ignorant. Just look at how calm our Jing-Jing was.
However, in the next second, Jing Yue praised excitedly, “Nine Heaven Academy is really interesting!”
Blue phoenix, “…”
The Heavenly Ladder sent everyone to the gates at the peak of the mountain.
Entering the mountain gates, the scene opened up before the eyes. At a glance, the boundary on the vast platform couldn’t be seen and the vision was obscured by the clouds.
At the center of the platform was a pool of water with a standing stone statue in the middle. He looked like a handsome young man with praying beads in his left hand and a treasure bottle in his right hand. The bottle was slightly tilted, and the gurgling water poured down from the mouth of the bottle, sprinkling crystal clear water drops into the pool.
This stone statue was most likely the founder, Luo-zhenjun.
—So pretentious, Jing Yue said to himself.
“Wow, so glamorous!” Blue phoenix suddenly got excited. “Jing-jing, ask Frostcloud Sect to make one too, okay? The figure should be one of Daoist-Master Jing Yuan standing on the back of a blue phoenix! Ah, no, Ji-ji hasn’t grown up yet, so others can’t tell it’s me. Let’s change it to Daoist-Master Jing Yuan holding a little blue phoenix, or little blue phoenix standing on top of his head.”
“Daoist-Master Jing Yuan doesn’t have a blue phoenix at that time.”
“But you have Ji-ji now!”
“I don’t like being watched, even if it’s a stone statue.”
Blue phoenix said unhappily, “In that case, I won’t force you, but you can make one for Ji-ji instead!”
“No. Frostcloud Sect is not a beast fortress.”
Blue phoenix cried in frustration.
At this time, a lot of people had gathered on the platform, some of them crowded on the open space on the left. Two three-foot-long tables were arranged there, with Golden Core Zhenren taking charge of each table. Another group of people sat cross-legged by the pool with no apparent indication of what they were doing.
Jing Yue, “Are the people by the pool going through the assessment?”
Elder Wang, “Exactly. Nine Heaven Academy doesn’t look at spiritual roots, but only examines comprehension and state of mind instead. Those cultivators are testing their state of mind.”
“How is it done?”
As soon as he finished speaking, Jing Yue saw a cultivator throwing something into the pool, and then he sat down like everyone else while muttering something in his mouth.
Jing Yue exclaimed in surprise, “What is he doing?”
Elder Wang, “Rumor has it that there’s a custom in Luo-zhenjun’s hometown. As long as you cast a spirit stone in the pool and make a wish, it can probably come true.”
Jing Yue could not help but smile and said, “A cultivator seeks nothing more than longevity and transcendence in the path of Dao. If everything can be achieved so easily, why do we still need to cultivate?”
Elder Wang also laughed but said, “What the cultivator cast is not a spirit stone but a lotus seed.”
He pointed to a direction by the pool and Jing Yue noticed a Golden Core Zhenren handing out small pouches to the cultivators.
“You can find lotus seeds in those pouches?”
“Correct. The lotus seed is engraved with the unique charm of Nine Heaven Academy. The cultivator throws the lotus seed into the pool, and if they can make the seed bloom, they’d have passed the state of mind level.”
Elder Wang smiled. “The purer the color of the lotus, the higher the state of mind.”
Suddenly, a pink lotus bloomed in the pool. With the overflowing fragrance of the lotus, a female cultivator sitting by the pool opened her eyes.
“Ah, the flower bloomed!” The female cultivator couldn't hide her excitement, and the other cultivators waiting to get the lotus seeds looked at her enviously.
Jing Yue applauded and praise, “What an impressive Luo-zhenjun, what an impressive Nine Heaven Academy indeed.”
After a while, he asked again, “How is the comprehension being tested then?”
“You need to look for the Golden Core Zhenren on the left to apply for a plaque. Each plaque is engraved with some words. The cultivator needs to infuse the divine consciousness with the words on the plaque. If a mortal-grade cultivation technique can be comprehended from this exercise, there is hope to pass the assessment. A cultivator is deemed excellent if a Huang-grade cultivation technique is comprehended, while only a genius can comprehend a Xuan-grade technique. However, in the past thousands of years, very few people comprehended a Xuan-grade technique.”
Elder Wang's tone was suddenly agitated. “More than 800 years ago, Qin-zhenjun of Sword Inscription Sect comprehended the rudimentary form of the heaven-grade Daoyi Sword technique here. Since then, his reputation has skyrocketed.”
Jing Yue nodded thoughtfully. “Qin-zhenjun is amazing indeed.”
At this time, a tall and thin cultivator approached Jing Yue and respectfully said, “Disciple He Han pays respect to Laozu.”
Jing Yue was startled at first, before reacting. “Are you a disciple of Frostcloud Sect? Currently studying in the academy?”
He Han replied, “Yes, this disciple is here to welcome Laozu, the elders, and all fellow disciples.”
Elder Wang, “Seven disciples are participating in the assessment this time. He Han, please bring them inside.”
He said to the other disciples with letters of recommendation, “You can follow me.”
After that, he bowed to Jing Yue and said, “Laozu, please.”
Initially, Jing Yue wanted to stay and observe the assessment progress of Frostcloud Sect’s disciples, but after realizing that he could easily find out the results afterward, he didn’t object.
Unexpectedly, they had barely taken a few steps when they heard a commotion.
“It’s quite obvious that the lotus flower has bloomed and I’ve also comprehended a technique, so why do you still refuse my entry to the academy?”
Jing Yue stopped to look and saw a young cultivator confronting a Zhenren, who said, “Although the lotus flower has bloomed, the color is impure. Although you comprehended a technique, it’s only the most basic mortal-grade Stone Marking technique. After tabulating the results of both assessments, the average grade is mediocre, hence you didn’t pass the assessment.”
The young cultivator flushed with anger and said, “Am I mediocre just because you said so? Who knows if you’re deliberately obstructing me?”
He suddenly pointed his finger at Jing Yue and his party. “What about them? They look like they are going to enter the academy directly, right? The assessment of Nine Heaven Academy is as good as nothing in front of big sects like this. Where is the fairness? It is said that Nine Heaven Academy is not controlled by any forces and is a blessed place for cultivators. In truth, it’s just a lackey raised by all the large sects!”
Jing Yue, “…”
He couldn’t even stand around without getting in the middle of the crossfire.