Xiaodong and the rest of his senior siblings were not the only ones here for the test that day. There was a crowd of outer sect disciples also being tested. Though they looked anxious and fearful, their faces carried uneasiness and hope. They hoped to be favoured by the Sect Master during the test and become inner sect disciples in one fell swoop.
Xiaodong only recognized some of these outer sect disciples. Usually, he rarely encountered them. Because… when he looked at these people, he would always feel a little guilty.
Just as how many people were displeased with him, Xiaodong himself felt that he did not really qualify as an inner sect disciple. When it came to aptitude, he wasn’t extraordinary. There were definitely some among the outer sect disciples with better aptitudes than him. When it came to working hard, there were some outer sect disciples who would not sleep and and eat while training, never slacking off. They had it much tougher than Xiaodong.
Even after working so hard, they were still outer sect disciples. Yet, Xiaodong managed to make use of his identity and have Master take him in as an inner sect disciple right away. How could anyone be satisfied knowing that?
Jiang Fan could see that several outer sect disciples were staring at Xiaodong with ill intent. He cleared his throat and then passed Xiaodong, taking the lead.
Xiaodong was short and lean. Now that he was walking behind Jiang Fan, his figure was nearly blocked entirely by Jiang Fan. Jiang Fan was really popular. Though he could not compete with Eldest Senior Brother’s prestige, those outer sect disciples did not dare to be impolite with him.
Xiaodong understood that Senior Brother Jiang’s action was to clear his troubles. He was a little moved, but also a little embarrassed.
Relying on his senior brother’s support was not really a show of his own abilities. In the future… There would come a day where he could rely on himself to earn the trust of others.
Eldest Senior Brother and Master had yet to arrive, but everyone else had. Xiaodong had at first thought that the test only applied to them martial siblings, and hadn’t thought the outer sect disciples would be tested too. The scale was rather huge.
When everyone arrived, they stood properly at the side of the training grounds. The outer sect disciples split into two rows and stood behind Xiaodong and the rest. Xiaodong could sense that there were eyes staring at him from behind, and their intentions were ill. Furthermore, there was more than just a single pair of such gazes.
The more people stared at him, the more XIaodong straightened his back.
Standing between him and Senior Brother Jiang was Chen Jingzhi. Senior Brother Chen had just recovered from his injury. Other than the initial greeting he gave his senior brother and junior brother at the start, he did not utter any other word. With someone between them, even if Jiang Fan had things to say, he could not chat with Xiaodong, and so he stayed silent.
The sun rose.
Li Fulin along with Liu Hengmao came walking over. Mo Chen was following right behind them. Xiaodong saw Eldest Senior Brother coming over from far, and his eyes instantly brightened.
Walking behind Master and Senior Liu, Eldest Senior Brother nodded at Xiaodong. His lips curved slightly upwards, revealing a plain smile.
Xiaodong smiled at Eldest Senior Brother as well, his mouth grinning wide, revealing his entire two rows of teeth.
The moment he saw Eldest Senior Brother, he suddenly had a pillar of support and he no longer felt the least bit afraid.
Xiaodong thought that no one noticed him. Alright, there were indeed not many who saw his current expression. However, Li Fulin and Liu Hengmao, who had already closed in on them, had pretty sharp eyes, you know? They had clearly captured the changes in Xiaodong’s expression. From the tense little kitten that could jump in fright at any moment, his entire being now looked as if it had been brightened up, lively and spirited. With loosened brows, his smile was as sweet as if he had just tasted honey. Even Li Fulin was stunned when he saw Xiaodong. In his heart, he believed that if Xiaodong was a little older, he would definitely have a crowd of young ladies chasing after his buttocks.
Li Fulin’s gaze then swept across his other disciples. He looked at Jiang Fan who was trying his hardest breathing in to straighten his chest, making himself look taller. He looked towards his slovenly female disciple, Linglong, who had combed her hair messily. He then looked at his always silent fourth disciple who harbored deep hatred within himself. A thought vaguely popped up in his mind.
The Yun Family’s characteristic feature was their thin eyes. This trait had persisted for a very long time. The two generations of the Yun Family he had seen all had them. However, Xiaodong’s eyes were not the slightest bit thin. Most likely, he bore more resemblance to his mother…
When Li Fulin and Liu Hengmao reached the platform next to the training grounds, the disciples below orderly bowed towards Master. Li Fulin looked at the seedlings dressed in blue and white, stared at Liu Hengmao and then waved his hand with pride. “Look, this is where I’ve been spending my time in the last few years.”
Liu Hengmao glanced at him, thinking that this show-off attitude of his was really irritating.
Their sword techniques, Dao-seeking ideologies, and their principles behind taking in disciples were all different. This was true for their personalities as well. Li Fulin was whimsical, while Liu Hengmao was stiff. Li Fulin liked liquor and hated people who brought up things like elegance in front of him. Liu Hengmao did not like drinking liquor, and whenever he was not practicing with his sword, his only other pastimes were playing the zither and playing chess.
Just how did these two people with completely opposite interests become intimate friends? Putting aside how others would scratch their heads over this, even Liu Hengmao himself did not understand either.
What was there to boast about having disciples? With Li Fulin’s style, taking in disciples would just be misleading them. Yet Li Fulin felt that Liu Hengmao was being stubborn. Why was he so insistent on comprehending the Dao before taking in a disciple? What if he couldn’t achieve it his entire life? Wasn’t it miserable to not have a successor even at one’s deathbed? When that time came, it would be too late for regrets.
Below the platform, after Master spoke about two sentences for formality, Xiaodong took a step back and sat down. This test was still managed by Eldest Senior Brother.
The first to step out was an outer sect disciple. Xiaodong and the rest were lined up at the back.
That disciple first bowed towards Master and Senior Liu. Then, he thrust out a sword gesture with his fingers, before beginning to execute a set of sword techniques that Xiaodong had never seen before.
This person had considerable strength… When his weapon sliced the air, it emitted piercing noises. His moves were also quick. Looking at the moves, this set of sword techniques did not seem to follow the style of Returnflow Mountain. Xiaodong had heard that among the outer sect disciples, there were some who had already been taught by others prior to joining the sect. Before entering Returnflow Mountain, these people already had foundations in martial arts. It seemed this disciple was one of them.
Though Xiaodong’s own sword techniques were bad, after getting several pointers from his senior siblings, his outlook of things had grown. Xiaodong was unable to judge the sword techniques, but when he looked at this disciple, he felt like the disciple was slow, and he could be fiercer with his moves. Every single one of his moves was dull and sluggish, and his footwork clearly looked heavy and clumsy.
After executing a set of sword techniques, Master simply said, “Acceptable.”
That person looked a little frustrated. He sheathed his sword, retreated to the side, and used his sleeves to wipe away his sweat.
It seemed like there was still no hope this time. Master’s ‘acceptable’ meant he was still lacking a lot.
Next was another outer sect disciple. Xiaodong paid attention the moment that disciple executed a movement technique. Because what he was displaying was none other than the Rudimentary Sword Techniques that Xiaodong was practicing.
Compared to Xiaodong, this outer sect disciple was much more skilled in these sword techniques. If it was the day before, Xiaodong would definitely feel that he was far beneath this outer sect disciple and would thus feel ashamed. However, after seeing Eldest Senior Brother demonstrate it once yesterday, Xiaodong could no longer take others executing the same sword techniques seriously.
The moves that this person executed were pretty good, but how could he possibly be as heroic and elegant as Eldest Senior Brother? Though the moves were the same, compared to Eldest Senior Brother, this person’s moves simply had no spirit. It felt as if… they were missing many things.
As expected, after this disciple finished his display, Master did not even utter a simple “acceptable”. He simply nodded and had the disciple step down.
Xiaodong heard that these outer sect disciples could not stay on the mountain for too long. If they did not show much improvement even after several tests, Master would not let them continue staying on the mountain. Because them staying would just be a waste of their efforts. It would instead be best if they looked for other paths down the mountain, so that they would not impede themselves or others.
Streams of outer sect disciples came up, but Master did not praise any of them. Senior Liu’s expression was even colder, nor did he speak up to give pointers to anyone.
Xiaodong watched every one of them seriously, and he would unconsciously compare them to Eldest Senior Brother. Naturally, none of them could beat him. Eldest Senior Brother was the best.
When about half of the outer sect disciples had gone up, Master suddenly called Senior Brother Jiang.“Fan’er, come up.”
Senior Brother Jiang was utterly surprised. “Me?”
“Yes, let me see if you’ve made any progress in your martial arts.”
Senior Brother Jiang did not expect that Master would suddenly skip over the people in front of him and call him up. However, after that momentary surprise, he responded with a “yes” and steadily walked to the center of the training grounds.
Senior Brother Jiang would usually have a smile on his face. Xiaodong had really never seen Senior Brother Jiang with such a stern and focused expression.
Senior Brother Jiang actually looked like this when he was serious, huh. His brows were thick, and his face was rather squarish.
“Then, this disciple will be showing his incompetence. May Master pass judgement and point out my mistakes.”
Senior Brother Jiang unsheathed his long sword. He was not that tall, but the sword he used was a little longer and broader than the average person. Naturally, it was a little heavier too. If Xiaodong had to raise that sword, while he could raise it with one hand, swinging it freely would be a problem. However, that sword was extremely congruous in Senior Brother Jiang’s hand. Senior Brother Jiang’s sword techniques were of a rigorous style, wide and heavy. The more people watched his display, the more they felt that the sword must be as heavy as a mountain. If they had to face against this sword, they would most likely suffocate from the pressure.
Senior Brother Jiang… as expected, possessed actual martial arts as well. He usually looked like a good-natured person, someone without a temper. Xiaodong even felt that Senior Brother Jiang was a little naggy. However, when wielding a sword, Senior Brother Jiang seemed transform into another person. Someone who was both familiar and foreign to him. Someone people did not dare to disrespect or belittle.
Xiaodong had seen Senior Brother Jiang practice this set of sword techniques in the mornings before, but it felt different this time. The moves were the same, but the spirit in them was not.
Right, that was the only difference.
What that earlier person lacked, compared to Eldest Senior Brother, was spirit.
If Xiaodong did not watch Eldest Senior Brother demonstrate the entire set of sword techniques yesterday, Xiaodong would most likely be clueless on what the difference was. However, now, Xiaodong faintly began to understand, though he was still unable to put it into words. His mind was filled with this single idea.
He recalled the set of sword techniques Eldest Senior Brother displayed on Sword Conferring Peak. He mostly could not clearly see his sword techniques. All he could see were the sharp horizontal and vertical sword arcs.
Eldest Senior Brother’s sword was different from others’ as well. Eldest Senior Brother usually looked especially warm and accommodating. However, on that day on Sword Conferring Peak, the sword lights were piercing to the eyes.
When Senior Brother Jiang finally sheathed his sword and stood still, there were several who could not help but shout out, “Impressive sword techniques!”
“Good going, Senior Brother Jiang!”