As the plaza gave way to reveal the compact region of space hidden underneath, a dazzling sight gradually made itself present before the crowd.
A sea of books, if spoken with frankness. The bookshelves towered towards the sky, multiple platforms and ladders having been established just to allow the readers to access the higher levels.
Simply turning in a full direction would reveal that they were confined within what truly constituted as an ocean of knowledge.
Tens of thousands of books could only be considered a minimum estimate.
After a quick survey of the library that was intent on swallowing the plaza whole, An Fei estimated well over a hundred thousand books to be a conservative approximation at the most.
The platforms were supported by various rows of chains as they stretched over their heads, casting a massive shadow over their bodies. As the crowd looked up towards the enormous slab of granite extend over their head and blot out the remainder of the library from their vision, each and every person revealed a collective sigh.
This was far too grand, ah!
After what seemed to have been ages, a resounding boom followed by an intense vibration struck the floor, startling several people and causing them to drop onto the ground.
Assisted by the two maidservants as they carefully lifted her back into a standing position, An Fei allowed her eyes to roam.
From one side to the end, turning a full circle, one could see a perfect row of bookshelves. Towering four meters in height with eight rows of books stretching across the entire base floor, one could see several ladders placed at periodic distances solely for the purpose of assisting in accessing the archived books.
The center of the ground platform supported dozens of tables of various woods including acacia, sandalwood, mahogany, ashwood, blackwood, and several others An Fei could not recognize.
On the surface of the granite platform resting above themselves, several gold and copper chandeliers drooped downwards, supporting dozens of blue orbs of light that casted a cheery glow onto the ground floor.
Every table supported at least one person dressed with a three-patterned lotus decorating their chest just like the wizened old man before them; these people hunkered down at each table with at least seven to eight books, reading, arguing amongst oneselves, and causing the eyes each and every person in the crowd to glaze scarlet with envy.
How they wished to be one of those people! Then they wouldn’t have to wait a decade to enter this paradise, especially when they received a single opportunity in their lifetime!
“We’re here,” the elder waved his staff as he calmly spoke towards the anguished crowd behind him. The gold and silver staff struck the ground once, a clear, heavy sound resounding within the area.
“Only six hours are allotted to your exploration. One cultivation technique, one martial arts technique. If you fail to register your set of techniques within the time limit, then you will not be permitted to retain whatever you have collected during this time. Additionally, if you antagonize any of the people here, the Three Lotus Sect is not responsible for any losses or death!”
Finished speaking in a languished voice, the elder withdrew the staff and strode towards a segment of the bookshelves on the wall.
Extracting a good dozen books and plopping himself onto a seat nearby, the old man opened a book and began to read, his solemn countenance easing into a relaxed smile before the crowd.
Their throats parched as they glared at the sea of books before them, but none could muster the courage to reach out and touch.
“This… we’re… allowed to go and search, right?” a middle-aged man voiced their thoughts, his speech quivering and trailing by the second.
“The Esteemed Senior… gave his permission, right?”
“That’s right, the Esteemed Senior only said six hours, and didn’t give us a time limit!” Another joined in, his enthusiasm surging towards the peak.
“Gentlemen, Esteemed Ladies, I say we don’t stand here as bumpkins and search for the golden feast! Each to their own accord, but do not become barbaric savages!”
“Agreed! Each to their own, but retain civility!”
Emboldened by the two rallying cries, one courageous and the other cowardly, the crowd rushed forward to scrounge throughout the rows upon rows of books displayed before them.
Soon enough, the current of people trickled down to reveal four young figures standing at their original positions, albeit three were slightly downtrodden.
“Fourth Sister, this is where we’ll part for six hours,” Wei Chang Luo gave the girl before him an affectionate pat on the head, before directing a stern glance to the two maidservants behind the girl.
“Take care of her safety. I don’t want to see my Fourth Sister injured because of your carelessness, nor do I want to face Father’s insane wrath if that such a circumstance was to happen.”
Xiao Ying and Xiao Wen bowed in a deferential manner, all traces of flippancy removed from their countenance. Peering at them in curiosity, An Fei had the premonition that their attitude and personality had transitioned to something unbeknownst to her.
Cold, indifferent, and mechanical. The joyous and passionate expressions that she had come to witness every moment had been completely hidden from view, revealing a blank but indestructible slate.
It was as if… they resembled the psychopathic killers that she had used to hear in the news many times?
Nodding in approval, the Second Young Master of Wei waved before departing towards a far corner of the library. A moment after, Xiao Ying reached with her right hand to gently grasp An Fei’s hand, startling the young girl.
“Fourth Young Miss, this way.”
“Ah? Oh… but shouldn’t we start there?”
Tugged towards the obscure ladder hanging on the wall near the farthest corner of the ground platform, An Fei released a muffled sound of surprise at Xiao Ying’s sudden actions. Her head turning towards the trail of bookshelves surrounding them, the girl couldn’t help but retain an expression of confusion.
“There are far too many people. The Fourth Young Miss won’t be able to find anything of much use on the first few platforms anyways.” Xiao Wen curtly replied.
“Oh… how did you know?”
An Fei asked in an awkward tone as she noticed upon a second inspection that the seemingly vacant bookshelves were fully occupied by hundreds of people – the same people that had earlier formed the crowd in the plaza. Unfortunately, she didn’t receive a reply from the maidservant.
Other than the Youngest Master and the Youngest Miss of the Sword Marquis, Wei Chang Luo, and a few others, the majority of the crowd was teeming at the ground layer of the library, scouring the sea of books. Oftentimes, a few people would enter into an argument debating who decided to obtain which technique, with small occasions of boisterous waving of fists, but with no contact.
Nobody dared disobey the rules established by the elderly man, hence everything was to be solved by a mean expression and persuasive wordplay.
Her hand now grasping onto a horizontal copper rod, An Fei looked upwards to see a dark vertical chamber gracing her vision. With a hearty sigh that brought some confusion to the maidservants guarding her sides, the girl gripping onto the rung of the ladder with a venomous intent as she began to climb.
Another ladder that simply invited for pain solely from its sheer, menacing appearance, but hopefully it wasn’t as miserable as she thought it to be…
At least not as miserable as the ladder she had climbed in the palace of sky blue crystal…