Dafeng's Night Squad - Chapter 39
“What an excellent poem! Ningyan truly is the poet of the century.” Li Mubai clapped his hand loudly.
The excitement written on his face was befitting a scholar who came across a masterpiece. There was also a hint of eagerness to see how the academy students would react.
Zhang Zhen said nothing but he gave Xu Qian a look of content admiration as if he was the one who groomed such an impressive student.
“The words are simple, yet they carry so much meaning. The candlelight burns from midnight to morn. That’s when scholars should study the most… Brother Jinyan, do you still remember our academy days?” said Chen Tai.
He found the poem to be profound.
Zhang Zhen thought back to his younger years and said, “Our time in the academy? I was a poor student then and only had two steamed buns to eat every day. At night, my stomach would growl as I struggle to hold the candlelight over the book.”
“Was that why you always stole my eggs?” Li Mubai said in a jovial tone.
“Hey, I was borrowing. Didn’t I return them to you later on?” Zhang Zhen retorted.
Li Mubai blew his mustache and said, “An egg is worth so much more to a poor man.”
Chen Tai coughed to break up the argument between the two friends. He turned to Xu Xinnian and said, “Cijiu, after the spring imperial provincial exams, you will be qualified for an official post regardless of your results. Have you given thought to the future?”
The sudden topic change threw everyone off. Zhang Zhen and Li Mubai quieted down as they thought of Xu Xinnian’s future.
Chen Tai glanced at the two hesitant elders and quickly said, “Typically, one would begin in the city, then be sent out to govern other towns. That’s the standard way to climb the ranks. Although I’m not a court official, I know people in the courts who could help.”
Xu Xinnian’s mentor was happy to hear that. “That sounds great. Cijiu, quick show your appreciation.”
“No need for that. But I wouldn’t mind a favor…” Chen Tai said with a smile.
His words made the two elders raise their eyebrows—something was not right.
No one said anything about a favor.
Chen Tai’s eyes were crinkled into half-moons. “Ningyan, you’re an unpolished gem. To stand out, you need someone to work on you. These two elders aren’t the best at mentoring. Why don’t you come with me?”
Li Mubai and Zhang Zhen were livid. “Go away, you shameless bastard!”
Xu Qian took the opportunity to speak. “I do have some questions for the elder.”
His visit to the White Deer Academy was calculated—he wished to gain some free service.
“I’m stuck in the martial artist’s refinement stage. As I have no achievements and my family is poor, I never had the chance to enter the Qi rank.”
He made a 90-degree bow and said, “Please help me open my Heaven’s Gate.”
This was his second reason for the visit. Although he could sell the magic items from Song Qing, he figured there would be a better way. He simply did not wish to waste the magic items—he wanted a win-win situation.
Zhang Zhen shook his head and chuckled. “Are you crazy? Everyone here is on the path of Confucianism. We can’t open your Heaven’s Gate. How the Qi moves in a martial artist’s body is only known by those who walk the same path.”
‘The divide among the disciplines is wider than I’d expected.’ Xu Qian was somewhat disappointed when he asked, “I don’t understand. If the Heaven’s Gate requires a divine-class expert to unlock, how did the first martial artist open his Heaven’s Gate?”
Li Mubai lifted his teacup and answered him with another question, “Do you think the martial arts discipline was founded by a person? That he ascended the ranks effortlessly?”
Xu Qian shook his head.
“The discipline is advanced by generations after generations,” Li Mubai explained. “Perhaps at the beginning, the refinement rank was the highest one could achieve. As fate would have it, someone’s Heaven’s Gate was opened and the Qi training state became the peak. As centuries passed, we have the current, fully-developed martial arts discipline.”
“Fate?” Xu Qian latched on to the important detail.
“Having a divine-class expert open one’s Heaven’s Gate is the safest and most convenient method, but it’s not the only method.” Chen Tai took over the explanation.
He smiled as he continued. “When a baby is born, he is enveloped by a pure Qi. As he grows older, the Heaven’s Gate closes and the Qi retreats into the body. To master the Qi, one has to reopen the Heaven’s Gate.”
Xu Qian nodded—as humans consume all forms of mortal sustenance, the Heaven’s Gate is clogged by impurity and thus, the Qi circulation is cut off.
His uncle had taught him the basic theory.
“Besides the widely-known, there are two other methods to open the Heaven’s Gate. First, the expel-infuse method. It has to be practiced since young. Every day, one must bathe in a herbal bath to cleanse the meridians that lead to the Heaven’s Gate. The method is time- and resource-intensive, thus eliminated from practice.
“The second method is to use an external force. This is the oldest and dumbest method used by our forebears. They swallowed monster pills. Monster pills are essence collected from monsters. With the energy accumulated in one’s body, taking the pill will force open the Eight Extraordinary Meridians but the effect is uncontrollable. Only one out of ten survive.”
‘I see. While I didn’t get what I wanted, some additional knowledge never hurt.’ Xu Qian was grateful for the explanation. “Thank you for the enlightenment.”
‘Look at this polite and humble student. A good talker too.’ The three Confucian elders wore satisfied smiles as they stroke their beards.
At the heart of the academy was the Sage’s Study Palace, also known as the Sage’s Temple. It was a place to enshrine and worship the founder of Confucianism.
The plaza outside the Sage’s Study palace could fit all of the White Deer Academy students.
Every year, the headmaster would address the student body when the spring imperial provincial exams rolled by. He would urge them to study hard, get their names on the scoreboard and contribute to the greater good of society.
On the plaza, there was a mottled, red wall that had layers of papers stuck to it.
It was the academy’s bulletin board. The mentors would paste their essays, poems, calligraphy, and occasionally their students’ outstanding work.
Two students appeared before the wall—one was carrying the rolled-up paper while the other was applying paste to the wall. Then, the two worked together to unveil the new piece that was to be featured on the wall.
The scene attracted the other students in the area. The size of the paper—a human’s height—astounded them.
“What’s being featured? Come on, let’s have a look.”
“Doesn’t look like an essay. Oh, a poem… Why the fuss over a poem?”
“Ever since Ziyang’s Layman left the academy, the poems on the wall are rarely worth a read. The remaining mentors and elders aren’t good at poetry.”
As the chatter picked up, students flocked to the wall to check out the huge poster.
The characters were written boldly. The brush had been gripped by a firm hand—the ink had seeped through the paper. Each stroke conveyed the gravity of the poet’s words.
“This is Mentor Zhang’s writing.” A student recognized the handwriting.
Others were focused on the content.
“‘The candlelight burns from midnight to morn. That’s when scholars should study the most…’ Oh my. Ever since the autumn exams, I never stayed up to study.”
“The words used in the poem are simple, yet it is thought-provoking!”
“Simple? ‘When young, we neglect studies for fun. When old, we regret not learning enough.’ The lesson is embedded within the poem, it is a worthy proverb.”
“‘When old, we regret not learning enough…’ I’ve been falling behind on my studies. Spent too much time playing chess and exploring the mountains. This poem is a wake-up call to me.”
“Whose mighty hand-penned such a good poem?”
More people gathered before the wall to check out the poem. Many resonated with the words and left feeling motivated to study.
The first half made the students blush with shame. Who could pull an all-nighter studying?
Such examples were littered across the academy grounds. The academy elders often spoke about their long study sessions decades ago when they were students.
The few outstanding students also spent an inordinate amount of time studying.
However, it was the second half of the poem that made the students sweat: When young, we neglect studies for fun. When old, we regret not learning enough.
The words echoed like a warning. The students who had been slacking were remorseful. They were overcome with anxiety as they worried about their future.
Deep in their bellies, a fire was lit and their motivation for study rejuvenated.
A short distance away, the three Confucian elders observed the scene from the edge of the plaza. Chen Tai stroked his beard and laughed. “I take back my words. The poem has touched many hearts. Xu Ningyan truly is the poet of the century.”
Witnessing the effects of the poem on the student body, Zhang Zhen beamed. “You’re right. He produced that poem before we even finished a pot of tea. His poetry skill and talent can outclass even the best poets in history.
Suddenly, Li Mubai fielded a question, “Do you believe that he abandoned his studies?”
The two elders nodded. Li Mubai smiled and asked, “How are you sure?”
Zhang Zhen replied, “When crafting the poem, he told Cijiu to write in his stead.”
“As a scholar, why would you ask others to write in your stead? Unless he isn’t proficient in calligraphy.” Chen Tai added.
Calligraphy was the basic skill needed by every student.
Li Mubai sighed. “It’s unfortunate that he’s beyond the age of changing paths.”
Chen Tai’s heart ached. “Such talent wasted on martial arts. An affront to the gods!”
The rough practice of martial arts was not suited for a man with such flowery words.
Something crossed Zhang Zhen’s mind. “I heard Cijiu mention when the two boys were young, his father decided Cijiu would study while Ningyan would learn martial arts.”
“Xu Pingzhi is unfit to be a father! He wasted a good scholar. Upsetting, exasperating!” Li Baimu said in frustration.
The two elders agreed with his condemnation.