As the sky began to darken, Cheng Hao finally stepped outside the Teleportation Hexagram and found himself in a vast courtyard. It was a few miles wide and occupied the space in between the sixth and seventh layers of the walls.
Off in the distance were many small huts, each occupying a small area of a few meters in both width and length. An old man with white hair sat on a chair, looking down and thus making others unable to see his face.
In front of him was a desk, much like the Vacant Elder that Cheng Hao had met before when he was travelling together with Liu Biao. He was probably some sort of gatekeeper, behind him was a small cart full of black robes as well as hundreds of keys hung on its side.
As soon as he stepped out, Cheng Hao saw the old man sitting behind the desk whom also lifted his head to look back at him. Cheng Hao’s eyes gleamed and he started to walk towards the stall the man owned and bowed as soon as he neared: the man purposefully hid his cultivation to others so very few people would know, but he was actually a peak Reverend Martial expert.
He could escape other people’s eyes, but how could Cheng Hao possibly be fooled by such trickery? Him, who had once been a being at the peak of existence… How could a mere cultivator from such a lowly plane possibly fool his eyes!
“Junior offers his respects to his elder” He respectfully exclaimed, his voice fawning but not to the point it seemed too flattering.
The old man was baffled: very few people would be polite to him and would instead treat him as nothing more than a delivery man, urging him to hand over the sect robes and hurry away soon after.
Few would show such respect to him unless their nature was that of a polite person… or if they had seen through his cultivation and attempted to flatter him to gain favors off of him. The old man despised those kind of people the most so he hid his real power, but… Had it just got seen through by a child?
His previous nonchalant expression turned serious, he sent a strand of Reverend Will towards the young boy. A Strand of Will, a strand of spiritual energy containing one’s consciousness. Being in the Reverend stage, only those on the same stage or above would be able to sense it.
Of course, a few exceptions are everywhere, but for a child so small to be able to see through the power of a man having a cultivation of the Reverend stage was just unthinkable!
Seeing the old man’s actions, Cheng Hao laughed in his mind and completely ignored the Strand showing confusion at the older man’s change of expression: if he had reacted to the Strand in any way, the old man would have found out that he had actually seen through his real cultivation…
It would mean he was able to see through a Reverend Martial cultivator while still not yet having stepped into the realm of cultivation… It would bring countless problems to himself as well as there being the chance of offending that same cultivator.
Seeing no reaction from the boy in front of him, the old man couldn’t help but smile ‘Such a polite young boy…’ Being fooled by Cheng Hao’s methods, in his heart he really thought of Cheng Hao as an exemplary child!
“Is Elder alright? Did Junior offend you in any way? If so I, Cheng Hao, would gladly amend and give his life!” Cheng Hao immediately kneeled, seeming worried but at the same time determinate to carry his burdens and pay off his debts.
The old man’s heart warmed seeing such dedication and respect towards the older generation. He quickly helped the young man to his feet, reprimanding him “Men have gold under their knees. One shouldn’t kneel lightly but only to their parents and to their master.”
Seeing that his deception worked, Cheng Hao couldn’t help but smile in his mind. The snake also sighed “Humans are so easy to fool…”
The old man, of course, couldn’t be aware of either of the things, and his good impression towards Cheng Hao kept getting better.
“Young child, you said your name was Cheng Hao? You do not have to call me elder, everyone simply calls me Old Lao, why should you not?” The old man inquired.
“Junior Cheng Hao doesn’t know. He simply can’t shake off the feeling that Elder is an amazing person that can split mountains and fly to the ninth level of the skies! And… I also have a strong feeling… like there’s more than it meets the eye to elder’s strength!”
At that, Lao shuddered and pondered ‘This boy didn’t see through my cultivation so to know of my strength he could… Could this young boy possibly be connected to me by karma?’ He looked at Cheng Hao again, seemingly pained by an internal conflict, but in the end decided to wait a bit before making his decision.
He smiled and then began to speak.
“Junior Cheng Hao, I formally congratulate you on joining the Mysterious Light-Shadow Sect. Unfortunately, this is but the beginning! You joined the sect, sure, but you are now simply a Vacant Disciple, even lower than Outer Sect disciples! Every year, there will be a contest between disciples to enter the outer sect. Fortunately for you, it will be in just a month from now!” Old Lao explained.
At the man’s words, Cheng Hao first feigned happiness, then confusion, then anxiety and then happiness again (of course he already thoroughly knew many of the details regarding the sect he chose to join).
Seeing the innocent expressions on the child’s face, the old man nodded and continued his explanation.
“Remember! While the castle housing our sect is enormous, you can only go to certain places: a Vacant Disciple can freely walk inside the are in between the Seventh and Sixth Wall, the also referred to as the Sixth Ring, but can’t go any deeper. Penalty, Decapitation! There are really few resources and cultivation techniques that you can acquire with your current status, so be sure to climb higher quickly.”
Cheng Hao nodded and inertly thought ‘No shi* buddy… I am just going to stay here and feed on dog crap even though there is an all-you-can-eat banquet right there!’
“An Outer Disciple can instead go anywhere in both the Sixth and the Fifth Ring, so in between the Seventh and Fifth Wall, but not any deeper. Penalty, sealing one’s connection with the heavens and the earth, thus loss of cultivation. A higher tier of resources and techniques are acquirable here, as well as the possibility to form and join an alliance. You will find out more about this later.”
“An Inner Disciple can go anywhere from the Sixth to the Fourth Rings, penalty from going any deeper is the inability to cultivate for ten to twenty years. Even better resources can be acquired, and the first few martial skills can be found and cultivated here!”
“Even higher status than Inner Disciples are Core Disciples. They can roam pretty much anywhere in the castle, except for the first and second rings which are reserved solely for Elders and the leading positions. Inner Disciples can also search for a master to get them under his wing” at that, his eyes gleamed strangely as he looked at Cheng Hao.
“Finally, the highest status that a disciple can reach, the Twin Star Disciples!” The old man’s expression turned serious.
“They can only be two, the Light star and the Shadow star, and have not appeared again except once, a few hundred years ago, since the requirements are incredibly strict: they must join the sect together before their tenth birthday, reach the Superior stage before their fifteenth and stand on equal ground as a core elder before their seventeenth. In the sect, as of now, there are no Twin Star disciples.” At that even Cheng Hao frowned
‘Crap! These requirements are way too strict!’
“But” the old man continued “The benefits are worth the efforts: assistance from the school for anything possible and doable ten times a day as well as unlimited resources from the school treasury, being able to explore the castle and its secrets to its outmost and even accept one of the top two School Protectors as a master!”
“Cheng Hao, you MUST become a twin star disciple! This castle isn’t as easy as it seems, it might even contain otherworldly treasures!” The golden snake suddenly shot out from his pocket and landed on his shoulder, looking incredibly excited.
Cheng Hao acted as if there was a fly on his shoulder and swatted the snake a few meters away ‘I don’t need a snake to tell me that!’
“As for the Elders… They are disciples that stayed for more than fifteen years in a certain rank, an exception are Honorary Elders, whom stayed for ten or more years as a Core Disciple, without being able to become a Twin Star. For example, an Outer Elder might not definitely beat an Outer Disciple, but a powerful core disciple would very, very rarely lose to an Inner Elder.”
At that, Lao Jianghu paused before saying “As for me, I am not an Elder, just a self-proclaimed gatekeeper… So I might be a cultivation less mortal just like I could be a mighty Reverend Martial cultivator!” At that he chuckled for a bit and Cheng Hao also smiled in his mind.
“Here are your sect robes. Your copy of ‘Basics to Martial Cultivation’ should be on the table inside your room. I wish you luck” the self-proclaimed gatekeeper finally gave him the sect’s Vacant Disciple robes (a long black robe with one white stripe running from the right shoulder to the left ankle). “The key should be in the hut. The hut is number #5742, good luck!”
“Thanks for your work, Elder” Hao Cheng cupped his hands and bowed to the old man before turning around and leaving, walking slowly while observing his surroundings, drawing a mental map of the place. The old man looked at him, a weird smile on his face. It was neither happy nor sad, it was a smile that came from his heart that wished the boy good luck.
When he couldn’t see the small back anymore he began speaking to himself “If he could get into the sect with his current status as an eight years old boy, his only way would be to pass the exam. To be able to do that at such a young age, it should be fairly obvious that he either had some help… Or has some outstanding talent. If it was the first it will become clear as time goes on, but…”
The elder’s eyes gleamed “If it is the latter, it seems like my Mysterious Light-Shadow Sect got quite the genius this time, maybe… Just maybe a Star has appeared. But a single Star isn’t enough for the Sect to shine. A single Star is incomplete, as its ambition would surely tone down, having no competition or goals. That is why there must be two. I do not want to ruin his future because of some senile old fools’ thirst for power! I won’t let him become a lone Star!”
The old man lifted his head and, seeing the sky turning dark, decided to close his stall and go to sleep but then…
“Elder, elder, can you wait a bit more before closing?”
As the ‘Old Man Lao’ turned, he couldn’t help but be slightly startled: in front of him, a panting young boy, also eight years old, had approached him. The man was absolutely shocked.
The boy was dressed incredibly well, with expensive clothes adorning his whole body. He had shoulder length purple hair with blue strands in the middle, a girly face and long, purple eyelashes. His green eyes looked like two emeralds and they were really beautiful. He had an oval and symmetrical face and small red lips. If it weren’t for the men’s clothing he was wearing, one would without a doubt have confused him for a female!
“Young boy, could it be… you passed the new disciple entrance exam???” the old man Lao couldn’t help but suck in a breath of cold air: had the sky fallen down? How could this be? Two heaven-shaking genius in the same day? That was simply not possible!
The young boy stopped gasping for air and then innocently nodded and replied “I did. Can I now enter the sect? I am not too late am I?” The young boy seemed to be extremely worried.
The elder was a bit surprised but when he got over the shock he pointed his chin upwards and a loud laugh releasing both frustration and indecisiveness came out. He grabbed the youth’s hand and felt his pulse and incredible excitement and euphoria became visible on his face. The young boy was so startled that he fell on his back.
When he got up the old man was jubilant and extremely happy. In fact, he excitedly smiled as he handed the young child the robes and was about to give him another room key from the wall behind him when a thought flashed through his head. He cast his gaze upon the young boy and grinned even more.
“You see” he said “You are really young… I think it would be better not to live alone at such an age. Coincidentally, another young man that has the same age as you has also passed the exam, so how about living together with him?”
The child’s eyes instantly brightened and replied “Of course! Father said that on the road to martial cultivation, the more friends one has the better!”
Old Lao subconsciously thought that the child had a good father.
The elder chuckled and said “Hurry then! The other child was here up until a few moments ago and was walking pretty slowly, so if you run you might actually catch up to him! He’s in hut 5742. Here’s a spare key, do not lose it!” At the words of his elder, the child nodded resolutely and ran on the paved road in the direction the old man was pointing to.
“Kings between men or kings of fools? Twin Stars or Twin Jokes? Only time will tell…”
The old man closed the stall and then, suddenly… Disappeared.
Author’s Note: Here they are!!! The Twin Stars that also appeared in the summary! And also a convenient explanation of the sect’s hierarchy that was totally not ripped off other Xianxias or only used to lengthen the chapter!
And also, as many Xianxia and Xuanhuan veterans should know, ‘random old men’ are either incredibly shrewd or incredibly powerful so no surprise it is the same here!