AIP - Chapter 16: Ling Province
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
Ling Province, Canglong Prefecture.
Sageheart had twelve provinces, and in terms of area, Ling Province was ranked fourth. In terms of spiritual energy, Ling Province was ranked tenth. But economically, Ling Province was ranked second.
This place was located in the south of Sageheart, and like Qiong Province, it was located in the far east. Geographically, however, it was located close to Cloudlock Isle, forming with it an important cape called Boundless Cape.
Setting out from Boundless Cape and sailing along the coast, one could reach the Endsea Kingdom in thirty days.
Endsea and Sageheart were not connected by land, but they were linked by ocean routes. The sea route meant that this place was a major nexus of maritime trade, making Ling Province the most important economic province for the Sageheart Kingdom. Thus, even though Ling Province lacked in spiritual energy, it had a status that could not be ignored.
Canglong Prefecture was where the provincial headquarters of Ling Province was located, and it was the most bustling place in the entire province. This place had the Sageheart Kingdom's largest ships, its most high-class restaurants, its most luxurious inns, and its most beautiful women.
A boy was confidently walking its long avenues. It was none other than Tang Jie.
He had not listened to Xu Muyang and gone north. Rather, as soon as he had left Anyang Prefecture, he had turned around and headed south.
Xu Muyang had told him to go north because Basking Moon Academy was in the north, and he had wanted Tang Jie to seek instruction there. But Tang Jie knew that since Godhead Palace had not gotten the Profound Martial Mirror, it would not let Tang Jie go. As he was traveling alone, his trail would be too obvious. Thus, after making a feint, he had changed course, sticking to small paths and traveling only at night.
It was a simple trick, but very useful.
No one expected a twelve-year-old to play this sort of trick, and the pursuers had mostly gone north. Only a very small number had been sent south, and so naturally, even if they had searched every inch of the Sageheart Kingdom, they would have never found him.
There was another reason he had gone south. Without Xu Muyang's recommendation letter, Tang Jie would have found it very hard to enter Basking Moon Academy.
Basking Moon Academy accepted only fifteen hundred disciples every year.
But there were at least one hundred thousand contenders for these fifteen hundred spots.
And this wasn't even considering that he couldn't pay for the tuition.
Basking Moon Academy required an annual tuition fee of three hundred spirit coins.
Spirit coins were the basic currency used by cultivators. The official exchange rate put the value of one spirit coin as the equivalent of one tael of silver. But in reality, mortals found it very difficult to make this exchange. As a result, there was a private market for spirit coins where their value was three to five times higher.
This also meant that the initial tuition for Basking Moon Academy cost more than one million yuan, and this was just the tuition. The cost would only rise when all the other expenses were added on. In truth, Basking Moon Academy didn't actually make money from the tuition, but the same couldn't be said for all the other expenses. It was rather like the spin-off merchandising industry from his previous life.
The reason this was the case was that Basking Moon Academy had been founded with the intention of fulfilling the desires of mortals who sought immortality, and was intended to educate everyone regardless of background.
In the earliest stages, the various major sects had their own ways of assessing foundations and selecting inner sect disciples.
But the sects quickly realized the many drawbacks of this method.
Cultivation required a foundation, but not everything relied on the foundation. It was like how someone needed intelligence to reach success, but they could not rely entirely on their intelligence. There were always a few people with ordinary aptitude who managed to get outstanding grades.
For those ordinary people who could not get their foot through the door, this served as the best evidence that one's natural aptitude was a useless measure, and so they were dissatisfied with these selection methods that looked solely at one's foundation. While the cultivation sects claimed that their children were incapable of cultivation, they were really just being conservative and old-fashioned, obstinately clinging to foundations. Since there were people in the world who had succeeded in cultivation without good foundations, who could say that they were not one of those people?
In reality, while people like this did exist, they were so small in number that their methods were not worth imitating.
But the common people knew nothing, always believing that if others could create miracles, so could they.
When the Immortals refused them at the gates, they could not help but begin to resent them.
In order to avoid too many conflicts with the secular world, to maintain their image, and make their countries more governable, the Immortal sects made a compromise. These were the Immortal Academies. They announced that anyone could enter these schools to study, and so long as they succeeded in their studies, they could enter the sects.
This method killed four birds with one stone.
1. It avoided the prejudices of the foolish mortals who believed that the sects were not giving them a chance.
2. It saved them the effort of assessing the foundations of the disciples. Assessing a disciple's foundation was not some easy task. It required a senior of the sect and some resources, and little things built up into great expenses.
3. It provided an extra source of revenue to the sects. The parents of the world were all the same. So that their daughter or son could cultivate, they were willing to offer up all their life savings. They would hate anyone who refused them, grumbling that they weren't being given a chance. But if they failed to make the grade, their families would blame them for being incompetent rather than the sect, and their elders would give up on the idea.
4. This truly could prevent the sects from missing out on disciples who were astonishingly talented despite lacking a good foundation. After all, anyone who could meet the standards of the sect, regardless of the state of their foundation, had some value to the sect.
But some sects believed that this method had far too much of a secular flavor to it. Cultivators were high masters that resided outside the world. They could accept the reverence of the common folk, but how could they imitate them and open up schools?
If everyone had the chance to cultivate, wouldn't the cultivators be lowering their status?
But the facts bore out that only by opening the gates could one gather talented individuals. Those conservatives who kept the gates closed would ultimately drown in the wave of the new era.
The Basking Moon Sect, Godhead Palace, and the other four sects had been able to become the six strongest sects of the Rosecloud Domain not merely because of their formidable reserves. They had also been the first to change, which had ultimately allowed them to attain their current hegemonic positions. As for those stubbornly conservative sects, their scarcity of disciples ultimately resulted in deficits of manpower, and they gradually declined until they vanished into the river of history.
But as time went on, Basking Moon Academy gradually changed from a school for all ordinary people into a school dominated by the rich and powerful. It was excruciatingly difficult for poor sons and daughters to get in.
Of course, there was not just one path to cultivation, but just because it was difficult to get into Basking Moon Academy didn't mean any of the other paths were easy.
For example, Tang Jie had been with Xu Muyang for a long time, but he had never been able to learn his Immortal arts. Those Immortal masters who had emerged from their respective sects had basically all sworn oaths that they would not pass down the Immortal arts of their sects to outsiders… When the heavens opened one door to mortals, it often closed another.
As the best path to cultivation in the Sageheart Kingdom, Basking Moon Academy was the site of the most vehement competition!
In short, the poor pursued scholarly fields, the rich studied martial arts, and those who sought Immortality suffered poverty for three generations!
The path of Immortality was difficult, and just the initial studies were enough to make the majority of people despair.
When it came to money, Tang Jie did have it.
That Azure Light Sword Xu Muyang had given him was a decent treasure of good value. However, selling the sword was the same as exposing himself, and besides, Xu Muyang had given him this sword, and he was reluctant to sell it. Moreover, even with money, that door was still not open to him.
Only with nine cycles of his Jade Gate and astonishing talent would he have had a chance at an exceptional admission.
If he wanted to get into a school, he would have to use other means.
After spending half a year with Xu Muyang, Tang Jie was no longer completely unaware of the cultivation world. Thus, before coming here, he had already developed a full plan.
As he walked down the street, Tang Jie spotted a bustling restaurant frequented by numerous customers. Tang Jie went in, sat at a table, and ordered a few small dishes, after which he began to eat and drink.
He was in no rush. He slowly ate and drank until the mealtime rush had passed. As the customers dwindled, Tang Jie waved over a waiter. Taking out a few copper coins, he placed them in the waiter's palm and requested, "Waiter, I have a question I'd like to ask you."
The waiter's eyes flashed with happiness as he put away the money. "Honored Guest, what do you need?"
"This is my first time at Canglong Prefecture, so I'm not familiar with the situation. I'd like to find someone to ask."
"What does Honored Guest want to know?"
"A lot, but what I want to know the most is which families have the greatest status in Canglong Prefecture."
"This is…" The waiter hesitated.
Tang Jie chuckled and gave him a few more coins. "Don't misunderstand. Do I look like some bigshot bandit to you?"
The waiter looked at Tang Jie and saw a young boy, not someone particularly wicked. Moreover, true bandits were not likely to use this method of gathering information. His worries allayed, he said, "This Canglong Prefecture has five major clans: the Jins, the Zhangs, the Gus, the Weis, and the Zhous. Each one has an outstanding reputation in Canglong Prefecture, and it could be said that half of the wealth of Canglong Prefecture resides with these five clans."
"Explain a little more in detail," Tang Jie said as he pointed at the food on the table.
The waiter saw that there weren't any other guests around, so he sat down, picked up some chopsticks, and began to eat as he spoke. "If you had to point out the biggest clan in Canglong Prefecture, it would be the Jin Clan. The Jin Clan got its start with ships, and at present, six out of every ten ships at the pier are owned by the Jin Clan or under its control. It has ten-some cultivators under its retainer, and that's what you can call 'amazing'. The Zhang Clan is a clan of officials, with its venerable patriarch once serving as the Left Assistant Steward of the Ministry of Personnel! That's a rank four official, and he has disciples across the land. In Canglong Prefecture alone, there are numerous officials who originated from the Zhang Clan. The current prefect of Canglong Prefecture even has to visit the Zhang patriarch and wish him a happy birthday every year. They own the most land in all of Canglong Prefecture, particularly spirit fields, almost all of which are controlled by the Zhangs."
The waiter took a few more mouthfuls before continuing, "The Gu Clan had its start in the underworld. Apparently, they first united Canglong Prefecture's underworld. The head of the clan at the time was supposedly some cultivator who was associated with some sect, but the details aren't too clear. All I can say is that this is a ruthless bunch of people with the worst of reputations. They primarily operate bodyguard services, gambling houses, pawnshops, and loan houses. Besides that, they also get money from the local gangs, from which they've also raised quite a few thugs. The Wei Clan and Zhou Clan only started getting big recently. For the most part, they do business on the streets, with quite a few of Canglong Prefecture's stores belonging to these two clans. The Wei Clan primarily works in goods, fabric, restaurants, inns, pharmacies, clothing and food stores—things that the common people buy. The Zhou Clan works with flowers, jewels, books, and banks, and they usually interact with nobles and officials. Our restaurant was opened by an in-law of the Wei Clan."
"I see…" Tang Jie pondered all this information and then asked, "If I were to choose a clan to side with, which clan do you think is better?"
The waiter laughed and then gave Tang Jie a profound glance as if he was saying, 'I just knew that you were going to ask this.' He replied, "Joining them isn't easy. Of these clans, the first three have all existed for more than a hundred years, and even their subordinates are brought up in-house, passed down from generation to generation. The steward's son becomes the steward, the gatekeeper's son becomes the gatekeeper, and so on. They're all very loyal, and it's very difficult for outsiders to get in!"
"Then the Weis and Zhous…"
"They are recruiting outsiders, but they require people with clean backgrounds."
"A clean background…" Tang Jie muttered.
His own background could not be considered clean.
After asking the waiter a few more questions and getting a general picture of the situation, Tang Jie left.
For the next few days, Tang Jie wandered around Canglong Prefecture, strolling around for ten-some days before disappearing again… It was soon winter.
The winter this year in Canglong Prefecture seemed particularly cold. Overnight, a large blanket of snow was dumped on the city.
As Old Wu got up in the morning, he saw that the street was covered in white, and his own courtyard was thickly carpeted with snow.
Shaking his head, the old man went out to clear the snow.
Once he was done, Old Wu massaged his aching back and sighed, "Haaa, I really am getting old and useless. These bones have gotten worse again this year."
He coughed a little as he spoke.
An elderly voice said from inside, "Old man, don't forget to clear the snow in front of the gate."
"I know, old woman," Old Wu rudely replied.
As he opened the gate and was about to shovel the snow, he suddenly felt his leg kick against something.
Looking down, Old Wu paled. "Oh no! Old woman, someone… someone died in front of our gate!"
A moment later, an old lady ran out of the house and to the gate. Truly, someone was lying down in front of the gate, their body covered in snow. If Old Wu had not accidentally kicked them, they would have remained undiscovered.
The old lady hurriedly squatted down and took a closer look. "Oh my god, he's just a boy! How could he have just died?"
"What a shame!" Old Wu sighed.
He could now clearly see that the one who had died in front of their house was a boy, yet to reach adulthood.
Suddenly, the body on the ground twitched, causing the two elders to jump in fright. But they quickly came around, and the old lady shouted, "He's still alive!"
"Hurry! Carry him inside!" The elders worked together, lifting the boy up and into their house. While they were both rather old, they had worked for a living and the boy was light, so they managed to do it.
Placing the boy on the bed, Old Wu shouted, "Old woman, hurry up and heat up some ginger soup for him to drink! We can't get careless!"
The old woman hastily ran off to heat the ginger soup.
The boy seemed to become more energetic with some ginger soup in his belly, and his eyes slowly opened.
"Awake! He's awake!" the old woman excitedly shouted.
The husband and wife sighed in relief. Old Wu nodded his head and smiled. "He's awake, and that's all that matters! To think that I, Wu Nanpu, could still save someone in my old age. And in the same way as last time, haha."
The old lady rolled her eyes at him. "Look at how proud you are. If Xin'er were to ever find out, he'd mock you all day."
But she was also rejoicing inside.
The boy woke up, looked around, and seemed to realize something.
He suddenly sat up and got on his knees. "Elders, thank you for saving this little one's life! This little one swears to repay your generosity even if my body and bones are shattered!"
"Come on, get up; what's the point in saying all this?" The old lady hastily helped the boy up, and only then did she ask him how he had fallen unconscious outside their gate.
The boy answered that he had fled from the Wildgrain Plains. The Wildgrain Plains were overrun by bandits, and it was commonplace for villages to be wiped out. Though the Immortals cleared them out, the bandits were like weeds, returning again and again, only to be wiped out once more.
This boy had been one of the victims of the Wildgrain Plains horse bandits. His family had been slaughtered, and he had ultimately fled alone all the way to Canglong Prefecture. But without any food or money, he wandered the streets until he almost froze to death in front of the Wu home.
The old lady looked at the boy's weak and thin body and felt pity. "This child has truly been through a lot, coming alone from so far away, only to run into this winter's first big snow that almost took his life. If we have him leave, with no home to go back to, he really might freeze to death on the streets."
She turned to Old Wu, and though the old man said nothing, he understood her meaning.
"This… Xin'er is no longer here, and the home only has the two of us old folks, so it might not be very suitable…" The old man was hesitant.
The old lady slapped the old man on the head and rebuked, "What are you still thinking about? A little boy alone and impoverished! Are you really just going to watch as he freezes and starves to death on the streets? When you save someone, you save them all the way!"
"But his background isn't clear…"
"'His background isn't clear'? Wu Nanpu, are you from some bigshot clan that is worth the attention?"
Old Wu scratched his head. It was true. Though the Wei Clan steward's care in the last few years had made their lives much better, in the end, they were just an ordinary family that wasn't worth anyone's attention.
Moreover, he had always been a good person who was praised by everyone, and he certainly couldn't recall having any enemies.
With this in mind, he nodded. "Since that's the case, why don't you stay with us for a while? As for when you find a job…"
He was going to say that once the boy found a job, he could move out. But before he could finish, the boy prostrated on the floor and said, "Elder, thank you for allowing me to stay. This little one was saved by the two of you, so from now on, I will regard you as my father and mother!"
"Ah?" The old man was dumbfounded, but the old lady was all smiles. Patting the boy on the head, she said, "Good, good! An extra person is just another bowl and another pair of chopsticks, nothing more. Right, child, I still don't know your name."
The boy raised his head, revealing his starry eyes. "My name is Tang Jie!"