A deadly silence filled the practice ring.

The audience only regained their senses after Fang Lang spoke. Chatter erupted like a handful of pearls striking a jade tray.

The fifth-grade martial arts disciple—the little genius of the common folk—was defeated in one stroke!

In a matter of seconds!

Who could have predicted?

Fang Lang's good friend, Yang Zhengyi was not exempted. His hand was part way through his fringe as he stared in shock.

A single strike decided the match.

It was a clean win for Fang Lang. Amazing!

Fang Lang left to return the wooden sword after speaking to Ni Wen.

The wooden sword had too many scratches to be reused.

Among the crowd, the talented students narrowed their eyes.

Some felt threatened by the show of power.

"Fang Lang… Was he hiding his skills all this time? Third grade to fifth grade. That quick draw technique would have taken at least ten years to master."

"As the Imperial Examination approaches, all sorts of hidden talents will be revealed."

"Interesting. So Fang Lang has decided to reveal his cards now."

The students exchanged wary glances as their competitiveness got the better of them.

The triennial Imperial Examination was the last stop for average students. For the naturally talented, it was a platform to showcase their skills!

Fang Lang's performance riled up the students' fighting spirit.

Survival of the fittest, and the battle promised to be an interesting one.

Fierce competition in the Imperial Examination was encouraged to validate the students' three years of cultivation study.

When Yang Zhengyi recovered from his stupor, he frowned. Fang Lang greeted the girl and left without saying a word to him.

Nevertheless, the duel had excited Yang Zhengyi. He ran his fingers through his hair and jogged after Fang Lang.

As for Liu Hao, he had surreptitiously crawled out of the practice ring.

The crowd slowly dispersed.

Fang Lang's words made Ni Wen blush. Her head was a bit dizzy with the blood rush.

'Wait… Wait a minute. I have to practice with Fang Lang? Maybe I should just sit out on practice? Mother said I shouldn't get involved with the rich kids.'

Ni Wen's head was down as she contemplated her decision.

Fang Lang's last strike was seared into Ni Wen's mind, so was the bright smile he gave her in front of the whole crowd.

The solution appeared in Ni Wen's mind, 'I'll practice with him, but I won't say a word.'

She clenched her fist and nodded, determined to follow through with her promise.

The willow trees alongside the practice grounds swayed in the light breeze.

Silhouettes moved under the shade of the trees.

If Fang Lang was here, he would see a familiar figure under the shade. It was the man whom Old Fang accompanied to the entertainment house, Uncle Zhao.

Uncle Zhao stood respectfully beside a slender figure. Next to them was an old man with a hunched back. His beard was as white as his robe.

The three people drew their gazes away.

Uncle Zhao wore an odd expression while the slender figure had her dark brows knitted together, deep in thought.

The old man stroked his white beard, a smile on his face.

"That sword draw is interesting. If it was a disciple of the Sword Guild, I won't be surprised. Who knew Luojiang Academy had a student of this caliber?" the young, slender lady said after a deep breath.

Then, she fell silent. After a while, her eyes lit up. The bottleneck had been overcome and her thoughts flowed fluidly.

"Now I understand what Master Cui meant by not underestimating people."

The slender lady bowed before the hunchbacked man.

The old man waved his hand. "Young lady, this is not my doing. This is a normal duel between two Luojiang Academy students."

He turned to Jiang Linglong and sighed.

The golden cores were truly eccentric.

By chance, they happened to witness a surprising duel between two students.

"That boy's sword technique would've taken at least ten years of gruelling practice. It's one of the strongest sword techniques. Although he's just a fifth-grade sword disciple, having this technique in his arsenal would give him a significant boost."

Jiang Linglong had an attractive look of admiration on her face.

The old man who was addressed as Master Cui stroked his beard. He did not gainsay Jiang Linglong.

"The boy is Fang Lang?"

"The son of Luojiang City's Fang Beihe?"

"Why didn't we hear of him sooner?"

Master Cui smiled as he looked at Fang Lang disappear into the crowd after his win against Liu Hao.

The confidence and calmness Fang Lang displayed after his win was admirable.

The old man and the slender lady continued walking. The boy's sword technique was phenomenal but his cultivation grade was too low. The technique would boost his examination score but a fifth-grade sword disciple stood little chance in being picked by the Tang Dynasty's elite sects. A normal sect, maybe. Fang Lang was placed at the back of their minds.

If one could not get into the top-tier sects, the path forward was predictable, impressive sword technique or no.

Jiang Linglong and Master Cui chatted as they ambled along the path.

Uncle Zhao followed Jiang Linglong's footsteps but the shock and awe on his face still remained.

He recognized the boy in the ring. It was Fang Lang!

The boy was a third-grade sword disciple when they met, but within a day, he had reached the fifth grade.

The sword technique he just used was extraordinary.

The boy's performance contradicted Old Fang's mediocre evaluation of his son.

A distance away, Jiang Linglong turned her head. Her eyebrows were scrunched up as she hollered, "Zhao Wuji, stop daydreaming. I still have to make a trip to the Jade Pavilion after this. Keep up!"


Uncle Zhao snapped out of his daze and picked up his pace.

Fang Lang placed the brittle wooden sword back onto the weapons shelf. The old mentor in charge of the weapons shelf raised an eyebrow but did not demand for compensation.

The mentor had witnessed Fang Lang and Liu Hao's duel and saw the sword skill deployed by the former.

"If you were equipped with a steel sword, that strike would have taken off the opponent's arm, a clean slice through the bone."

The mentor took a drag of his tobacco pipe and smiled.


A surprised expression crossed Fang Lang's face, then he smiled. "He's a classmate. Mercy where it's due."

More importantly, the academy did not allow steel swords.

Fang Lang exchanged the damaged wooden sword for a new one.

The words shocked the mentor.

'Mercy where it's due…'

He took another drag of his pipe and blew out a cloud of smoke. A smile graced his face as he said, "Good child. That's a good attitude to have. The heart matters when it comes to cultivation."

The mentor tapped his tobacco pipe against the weapons shelf.

Fang Lang gave the old mentor a nod. With his new wooden sword, he turned to leave for the practice grounds.

The duel gave him a taste of the Sword Draw Technique.

Fighting Liu Hao was a waste of time. It did not yield him any passive rewards so he wanted to end the duel as quickly as possible. He wanted to secure a clear win.

The power of the Sword Draw Technique was a big surprise.

Engaging in meaningful interactions with the binding partner would gain him special rewards.

The passive ability excited Fang Lang and he was eager to train with Ni Wen. Combat practice should count as a meaningful interaction, right?

The bell sounded to signal the end of break time.

On the practice grounds, the students from the third floor of the seventh study block gathered.

After some lecturing, the mentor ordered them to practice with their partners.

The students dispersed—green robes flapped like windswept leaves on the practice grounds.

At one corner, Fang Lang and Ni Wen faced each other.

Ni Wen held a withered wooden staff.

Fang Lang gave her a gentle smile.

Ni Wen's heart rate picked up. She tucked her head into her robe, too shy to face Fang Lang.

'Just practice, no talking!'

A distance away, Yang Zhengyi flipped his fringe away as he glared at Fang Lang.

The boy had grown wings and abandoned him to spar with Ni Wen.

Yang Zhengyi was the 50th on the honor roll!

Was he not comparable to Ni Wen?


Ni Wen was in the top three. Perhaps he did not hold a candle to her.

Yang Zhengyi was saddened by the thought and he aimed to take his frustrations out on his opponent.

The mentor gave the order.

Two rows of students faced each other.

"Thank you for the guidance."

The perfunctory greeting resounded throughout the practice area.

In the next moment, combat practice began and enthusiastic shouts broke out.

Brimming with youthfulness, the teenagers assumed their fighting stances.

There were smiles all around.

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