Ning Chen had oversimplified matters, whether it was to do with the task handed to him or the students of the academy.
It had never once crossed his mind that someone of this age would try to cheat and yet they did.
There were four of these cheaters with one of them even being an adorable little girl.
Had it been any other day, Ning Chen probably would’ve closed an eye to it, however, today was a snow day and his mood was particularly foul.
As he turned to the side and stared at the hateful snow, the bone-biting sensation in his legs slowly wore down on him. In the end, he couldn’t convince himself to let this matter slide.
The loud and clear clickity-clack of the wheelchair echoed across the otherwise silent room attracting the attention of the students instantly. They rose their heads to see what the situation was but instead saw him seated quietly before the little girl.
Without saying a word, Ning Chen stuck out his hand before the girl, solemnly waiting for her to hand over the paper.
Lin Wan’er raised her delicate eyebrows and stared at the outstretched hand before raising her head and giving the teen a radiant smile; she had no intention of handing over the paper.
The pair stared at each other for a long while yet the hand remained as outstretched as ever. His intentions were clear, he wasn’t leaving without the paper.
“Hand it over.”
Her face changed colors from a shocked white to a livid red. In the end however, she relented and handed over the slip of paper she kept hidden.
Ning Chen gave a slight nod before crushing the paper with a forceful clench of his fist then chucked it into the wooden wastebin attached to his armrest.
The same process occurred for the other three students with the only difference being the tools they used to cheat; a brush with words carved on it, an inkstone with faint engravings on it and answers sewn onto a shirt. All of them were confiscated without mercy; even the last one which Ning Chen ruthlessly tore off.
The academy was famous for being tough on cheaters and thus none of the three dared to resist him. With another clench of his fist, he destroyed the evidence and casually tossed them into the same wooden bin.
It was a startling clench that sent a clear message: this calm looking substitute preceptor would not tolerate any nonsense.
While a number of them were practitioners as well, none of them were able to crush a sturdy inkstone or rip apart a piece of cloth so casually.
For the remainder of the examination the students had become noticeably more obedient, yet just as he thought that there would be no more trouble, he received another surprise. The moment he closed his eyes to meditate, the adorable girl acted up once more.
He slowly opened his eyes and looked at Lin Wan’er. With a flick of his wrist and a clench of his fingers, the latter’s paper slip abruptly flew out into his palms.
“There won’t be a second time.”
He calmly declared to the chagrin of the little girl. At the side, the other students gasped quietly in surprise; this was the first time they had seen him talk in these past two months.
“My grandpa is the headmaster!”
She slammed the table and bellowed like a little tigress.
The students immediately averted their eyes at those words yet they merely elicited a smile from the handicapped teen. Looks like no matter which era you’re in, the same kind of things will always happen.
“I’m the invigilator.”
He replied and pointed at the wooden plaque on his chest.
“You’re a substitute.”
“But I’m still your invigilator.” He calmly replied once more.
She didn’t want to let him win and yet she couldn’t find the words to refute him. After all, within the examination grounds, the invigilator was the highest authority; this was the ironclad rule of the academy.
Seeing her irate expression, he decided not to provoke her anymore. While he was their invigilator during this examination, outside of it, they didn’t have any connection with him at all. Thus, there was no need to harp on this matter.
This was a test of the student’s familiarity with the four confucian classics and was without a doubt, a difficult one. While the Sage didn’t set too many questions, they were all tough with almost no one being able to answer them perfectly.
Every year, this particular paper would always end up being the biggest hurdle the students had to overcome. Furthermore, the Sage wasn’t biased in his scoring and thus they had no choice but to complete this paper fairly.
Soon the examination came to an end. Ning Chen rolled about in his wheelchair collecting the papers after which he promptly departed without any other words.
Outside of the examination hall, the snow was just as thick as before with no signs of abating anytime soon. The weather was cold, bone-chillingly cold. As a gust of wind blew in from the north, Ning Chen instinctively huddled up in his wheelchair as he started pushing the wheels forward.
Suddenly, he felt an arm rest upon his wheelchair. Turning around, he saw a young man dressed in a set of blue clothes gently pushing his wheelchair along. Ning Chen knew this person. He was one of the four students who cheated, the one who sewed his answers onto his sleeve. It wasn’t a particularly bright move but it was a cautious one.
“Thank you Preceptor.”
Yin Yifei said in an embarrassed tone; cheating wasn’t exactly an honorable thing after all.
All he wanted was to get a good mark in the Sage’s course in order to pave a better road for his future. Yet he ended up getting caught by the invigilator.
As stated before, the academy took a tough stance on cheaters. If the preceptor were to hold onto the evidence, their fate would’ve been sealed; with expulsion being a possibility. There were such incidents in the previous years as well. After all, there would always be someone who wanted to try his luck and thus cheating could never be completely prevented.
“We’re no longer in the examination hall so there’s no need to address me as Preceptor.” Ning Chen replied with a shake of his head.
“In this student’s heart, you’re always a Preceptor.” Yin Yifei said with an unexpected level of persistence.
Hearing that, Ning Chen said no more and allowed the young man to push him.
From that day onwards, one could usually find the young man pushing Ning Chen’s wheelchair. However, Ning Chen made sure to send off the youth when it came time for him to chop wood. To him, this wasn’t something Yifei should be allowed to help with. After all, the Yin clan sent him here to study and not to perform chores.
Regarding the Yin clan, Ning Chen didn’t know much about it. All he knew was that it was a formidable clan which was to be expected within the academy; no matter who it was, all the students had a formidable background of their own.
With a thousand years of prosperity under its belt, the one thing Grand Xia didn’t lack was nobles and clans. In this rich fertile land, the clans were as numerous as the stars in the sky.
If it had not been for the headmaster, this group of young masters would’ve probably turned the academy upside down.
Just based on this fact alone, one could imagine how strong a Xiantian actually was.
Ning Chen raised his head and looked in the direction of a particular unassuming house looking past the numerous walls blocking his view. Within it was the strongest person in the academy; an expert with a status akin to a divinity within the territory of Grand Xia.
It was said that the current Grand Dukes of Grand Xia had been students in the academy and had spent a long, arduous stint in there before entering the palace and ultimately becoming the head of Confucianism, the military, and the government.
Thus, the academy was truly the best place to study, whether it was civics or military studies.
Two days later during an average morning, a dazzling beam of light shot into the air from the distant east. It was as if a white rainbow had pierced the heavens and earth, radiating a terrifying aura that shook the continent.
At that very moment, all the experts in the mortal realm trembled as they stared at the east with a disbelieving look in their eyes.
“The sixth Xiantian.”
After nearly one hundred years, a mortal had finally broken the fetters of their mortality and entered the realm of Xiantian.
“Who could it be?” was the question in everyone’s mind. Every Xiantian was a domineering existence and this newly minted Xiantian’s effect on the state of the world could never be overstated.
Especially given the complicated state of the world today, no one could predict the impact the appearance of a Xiantian would have on the various powers in the world.
“Is that you?”
Ning Chen murmured as he looked distant light. There was a hint of familiarity within it but for the most part it seemed foreign. For some unknown reason, his mood worsened significantly.
He hated that foreignness; it made him uncomfortable, extremely uncomfortable.
It had a coldness to it as if it was standing at a height he could never reach, it was a coldness that abandoned everything and it vexed him.
She had always been cold but she wasn’t jaded.
“Are you trying to ascend to immortality or something!”
He yelled at the beam of light before turning his wheelchair around, hiding the irate look on his face.
Today, the academy was left with a pile of unevenly chopped wood. Their varying width and length, a reflection of the tumultuous feelings within the teen.
Another two day later, the academy’s examinations finally came to a close. With the onset of the holidays, the majority of the students and staff left for home.
As for why it was merely a majority, that was because there was still one person left within the academy, Ning Chen.
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to go home but rather he had no home to return to.
With the departure of the students, there was actually no need for him to continue to chop the wood and yet chop he did.
On the fifth day as the darkness descended once more upon the land, Ning Chen halted his chopping having finished the day’s quota. He stared at the axe in a daze wondering about the direction of his life.
Not knowing since when, a wizened figure clad in white had appeared behind his wheelchair and asked in a slow voice: “What are you thinking about?”
“I don’t know.” He replied despondently. It was because he didn’t know what to do that he was sitting here in a daze.
“Sage, do you have a home to return to?” asked Ning Chen in a soft voice.
“I had one.” he replied calmly in the same slow voice.
Having lived a long time, he had almost forgotten about the word home but he did actually have one in the past.
“Sage, I don’t know what to do with myself anymore.”
Ning Chen’s eyes revealed a profound sense of confusion as he said that. He couldn’t return to the palace anymore and the wood that needed to be chopped had already been chopped so what should he do now…
In this vast world, exactly where could a wheelchair-bound teen like him go?
“Wherever you came from is wherever you should go to.” It was a simple answer containing the simplest of logics.
“I can’t go back there anymore.”
The confusion in his eyes grew even deeper as he stared at the falling snow in the night sky. Was there anyone who missed him in that distant horizon?
The Sage stood there quietly as he listened to Ning Chen retell his story.
This night, the pair had a lengthy conversation of which included his origins. There were some matters that when bottled up for too long caused one to go crazy and so he told him everything.
The expression on the Sage’s face was calm as ever as he listened to the fantastical tales of Ning Chen. Life took a variety of forms and while Ning Chen’s might have left the normal boundaries of life, it was after all, still life.
The Sage was an extremely good listener. While he hadn’t known the senior for long, he trusted him more than anybody.
He wasn’t the least bit worried that the Sage would reveal what was said tonight. Why? Because he was the Sage.
“Since you have nowhere to return to, travel northward. In life, one need not have a destination in order to travel. Sometimes, being confused isn’t a bad thing.”
At dawn, the Sage calmly threw out this advice before turning around to leave with his old wizened body.
With that, Ning Chen left as well, towards the North in the direction the Sage pointed at with no particular reasoning behind it.