AIP - Chapter 100: Suspicion
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
Today, after returning from Tiger Roar Valley, Tang Jie passed by the sparring ground on his way back and happened to run into Cai Junyang.
Cai Junyang came up to Tang Jie and chuckled. "How was your harvest today?"
Tang Jie replied, "272 coins, not too bad. What about all of you?"
"Let's not talk about it," Cai Junyang said with a shake of his head. "I ran into a few tough opponents, and while I managed to win, I wasted a lot of strength, resulting in my not having enough strength and losing four in a row."
"That's not too surprising," Tang Jie replied.
Sometimes, when he had been pushed out of Tiger Roar Valley early, Tang Jie would take a stroll around the sparring ground and see what was going on.
There were more and more students entering Spirit Spring, and some people who had been in Spirit Spring for long enough had started working on their spell arts.
This was the period in which everyone's strength was rapidly climbing.
Though most of them were still no match for the likes of Cai Junyang and Tang Jie, the people of their group would undoubtedly have to use more strength to defeat them. With victory coming at a greater cost, they wouldn't have the strength for afterward, so their win percentages naturally fell.
It was nothing at first. After all, losses were to be expected when grinding through battles.
But when someone was lucky enough to win once or twice, they would shout something like, "I beat Cai Junyang! An eight-cycle Jade Gate isn't anything special," or "I beat Tang Jie! What does it matter that he learned the Divine Firmament Sword Classic? That opportunity should have been given to me!" or something similar. Such comments were very unpleasant to hear.
The people at the top had to put aside the thought of dominating forever, while the people below couldn't help but celebrate their small successes.
Cai Junyang said, "If this goes on, our chances to rank will undoubtedly dwindle, and so will the resources we can obtain. This means that we'll get stronger more slowly and those guys will get more and more arrogant."
"Nothing you can do about that." Tang Jie smiled. "Several thousand students are fighting it out, and not everything can go the way we want it. It's not like the Rosecloud Domain exists only for us. If that weren't the case, I wouldn't need to run off to Tiger Roar Valley every chance I get. I would rather fight fiend beasts than fight those students. The danger is there, but at least I won't have those people acting smug."
"But we have to work to get out of this situation," Cai Junyang replied.
"Oh? It seems like you have a plan."
Cai Junyang replied, "Brother Tang, you know that rigorous training isn't enough to step upon the Great Dao. You also need resources. The few resources we get from ranking are far from enough. Putting aside the difficulty, even if we go all out and get into the top five once, we get only a few bottles of medicine, just a cup of water on the burning cart when it comes to cultivation."
Tang Jie nodded. "Naturally, but that's true for everyone, and it's not like we can do anything about it. Until we can participate in the official missions of the Spirit Lake Tier, we can only get resources from the battleground or Tiger Roar Valley."
"That's not for certain." Cai Junyang chortled. "These are only the resource avenues the school provides for us. But we students can open up our own avenues."
Tang Jie was taken aback, then he realized something and said, "You mean… take private work?"
"Private work? That's too coarse. We've just been invited to put on an appearance." Cai Junyang waved his hand, and his face reddened.
Although Spirit Spring Tier cultivators were the lowest level of cultivators, in the mortal world, Spirit Spring Tier students could still be considered high masters.
Simply their ability to navigate through the air like it was flat land was something that ordinary mortals were not capable of. If Tang Jie and Cai Junyang left the academy, they could easily become experts out in the world without any problem.
But this wasn't what was actually important. What was really important here was that they were students of Basking Moon.
Basking Moon Academy served as the disciple reserve for the Basking Moon Sect. From a certain perspective, it was like the party school for the sect. Anyone who came out of the academy was bound to have some status.
(TN: Party school here refers to a school run by a political party. In this case, the author is probably referring to the school run by the Communist Party of China.)
This was not only because of their abilities, but because of their identities.
It was precisely why many wealthy clans of the kingdom wanted to get close to these students, particularly those middle-tier clans who weren't able to get anyone into the school.
For those students who had a limitless desire for resources, these wealthy clans were another means of making money. Just like artists eating together with the wealthy, sometimes, just coming to sit around as the guest of honor brought in quite a lot of money.
This was particularly true for the famous students in the academy. They were like celebrities of some fame in entertainment circles. The moment they left the academy, they would have considerable social status.
People like Cai Junyang, Tang Jie, and Liu Hongyan, outstanding students who could often gain the Fierce Brave evaluation, could command a price of around three hundred spirit coins.
Those like Ping Jingyue, one level below, could get around two hundred.
Beneath that was the Ordinary level, which could get anywhere from fifty to one hundred.
As for the Incompetent and those who didn't even dare to step into the battleground, they normally only got ten spirit coins as an appearance fee, and that was if anyone was willing to pay.
From a certain perspective, students who went out as honored guests were prostituting themselves out. Strength served as their good looks, ranking was their fame, and talent was their skills in bed… The student of this class with the highest social status was said to be An Rumeng. As the only student with a Peerless evaluation, blessed with both beauty and talent, she commanded a price of a thousand spirit coins just to invite her to a meal, and an opportunity to sleep with her cost several times that.
What a truly pleasant idea!
Alas, An Rumeng had never agreed to anyone's request.
In the end, the academy wasn't the entertainment industry. The people of this era valued their reputation and did not consider this sort of thing to be any sort of honor. Most people would not be willing to bend at the waist for the sake of "five pecks of rice". And the school itself did not support this conduct. The one day of vacation per month was an invisible restriction on this activity.
He had not expected Cai Junyang to bring up such a thing today.
Perhaps because he felt embarrassed about it himself, Cai Junyang added, "It was actually quite the coincidence. Apparently, it's Lin Dongsheng's grandfather's birthday soon, and he wants to find a few presentable guests to increase the family's prestige, which is why he came looking for us."
Lin Dongsheng was one of the earliest members of the Freedom Society. He was a person of some status in Wanquan City.
Lin Dongsheng was their schoolmate, and going over to offer birthday wishes was a just cause and wouldn't hurt their reputation. It was hard to blame Cai Junyang and the others for accepting.
"Well, if it's the Lin Clan's birthday party, I guess it's fine." Tang Jie nodded. "But I've been rather busy lately and might not have the time."
Cai Junyang smiled. "Dongsheng said that if we're willing to go, he can give each of us two hundred coins as a thank-you gift."
Tang Jie laughed. "Brother Lin is being very generous."
Though it was lower than the normal price, they had a proper excuse and were doing this for a friend, so it wasn't particularly petty.
Moreover, Tang Jie had to risk his life in Tiger Roar Valley for an entire month to make three-hundred-some coins.
Such was the way of the world. Selling one's body would always make more than hard work.
Tang Jie squinted. "Who else is Brother Lin planning to invite?"
"It should be seven or eight people," Cai Junyang answered. "Any more and he couldn't afford it! Haha!"
But Tang Jie wasn't laughing. He simply asked, "When is it?"
"Ten days from now."
"Alright!" Tang Jie nodded in agreement. "I'll go."
Once they had parted, Tang Jie's face turned grim. "So it's starting…"
The people from Anyang Prefecture had probably arrived by now.
These people naturally couldn't enter Basking Moon Academy. If they wanted to point out Tang Jie, they would have to wait for him to come out.
Students didn't leave the academy for just any reason, so just waiting him out wasn't possible. Thus, someone needed to find a reason to call him out.
The excuse of a birthday, the temptation of money, and the friendship between schoolmates all served as suitable excuses.
But… why was it Cai Junyang who had called out to him?
Could he be Fierce Ape?
Tang Jie found it somewhat hard to believe.
He had always suspected Fierce Ape to be one of Shu, Liu, Ping, and Cai, but he had never been able to confirm which.
His top suspect had been Liu Hongyan.
After all, Liu Hongyan had been the one who had proposed that he join the Freedom Society. She was familiar with his situation and had exposed her ulterior motives.
Next in line was Ping Jingyue. Everyone could tell that this girl had other intentions when it came to Tang Jie, but if these intentions were affectionate in nature, then it was somewhat inexplicable.
The third suspect was Shu Mingyang. This bookworm who had all sorts of grand ambitions and spent all day buried in his books had the perfect cover to watch him out of the corner of his eyes.
As for Cai Junyang, he was the least suspicious.
He found it impossible to equate someone so straightforward and heroic, who was so devoted to the idea of becoming a swordsman that could sweep through the world, with someone who could suddenly turn around and admit that they were a Godhead spy. Whether emotionally or objectively, he did not want to believe that it was Cai Junyang.
But today, the one who had invited him was Cai Junyang, which left Tang Jie confused.
Could Fierce Ape really be him?
Had he really misjudged the man?
Or was he being used by someone else?
If so, then when Liu Hongyan and Ping Jingyue had acted abnormally with him before, could someone have been manipulating them from the shadows?
After all, if there was a once, there could be a twice. Someone who had been used once would naturally be used many times more.
If so, would he also have to overturn his suspicions on Liu, Ping, and Shu?
He stood there thinking for a long while, but he wasn't able to find an answer.
It was easy to know a person's face, but not their heart. This game of guessing who was the mole was probably the worst game in the world to play.
Gu Changqing had a headache about Tang Jie's identity, but Tang Jie had his own frustrations about Fierce Ape.
Later generations could look back on the past and pontificate on the errors made, always claiming that so-and-so was suspicious in however many ways for quite some time and that the failure to notice could only be ascribed to a lack of intelligence. But if they were actually in the thick of things, bereft of the god's-eye view, and facing countless possible choices, they would realize that they were at a complete loss for what to do.
And then they would understand that the ones lacking intelligence had been themselves all along.
Currently, Tang Jie was dealing with only a few people, and he interacted with that group of four a lot, yet he still couldn't tell which one was Fierce Ape, while Gu Changqing hadn't even properly met Tang Jie before and was facing even more choices. How in the world could he possibly confirm anything?
For him to resolve to immediately capture Tang Jie in this situation required incredible daring. An ordinary person in his place would have been overly cautious and had even more misgivings.
It was easier to demean others than to do a good job oneself!
After turning the matter over in his mind again and again, Tang Jie still couldn't find an answer. Finally, he shook his head and pushed off the matter for now. He muttered, "Forget it. As a cultivator, I should be bravely forging ahead, fearless of any sort of obstacles. Regardless of which one of you is Fierce Ape, I'll take you on. If you dare to come at me, I'll dare to kill you with my sword!"
There were many things that he wanted to do but couldn't because the time wasn't right.
Now that his enemy had made his move, it was time for him to make his own!
As he thought this, he began to seethe with fighting intent. He stopped worrying about who Fierce Ape was, leaning back and laughing.
A student passing by was scared out of his wits, believing that this person had gone mad.