The Days of Youth
Daren Academy was an entity that isolated itself from the world. Although the students didn’t feel that way, the Confucianism guards prevented any non-affiliated members from ever entering. Xiang Baxian’s father was the academy’s personnel, so Xiang Baxian technically inherited his father’s post. Because they didn’t know the nature or severity of crime he was arrested for, most members of the academy weren’t surprised to see Xiang Baxian released and back at the academy.
Xiang Baxian’s temporary substitute wasn’t as experienced as he was in embezzlement, bribery and the sort, so Xiang Baxian promptly resumed his post.
Given how obedient Xiang Baxian now was to Su Xiao, he didn’t hesitate to switch suppliers. Hence, there was now Zheng Datong on arithmetic and Shi Weiliang on music.
“Right, what’s next?”
With his arms crossed, Wu Dayong had a think before answering, “I reckon we should carefully choose our remaining team members because, based on my evaluation of myself, I suck at all the classics. Therefore, we need five more team members.”
Zhou Teng: “Try telling us something we don’t know. Who should we pick for the remaining five topics?”
He Shi: “Class is about to start. Let’s head back to class first. We can devise a plan after.”
While they were in class, Su Xiao squatted at the window until their class was over. “You guys are finally done!”
Zhou Teng smiled. “Didn’t expect this, but Shi Weiliang said we can use her family’s restaurant as a meeting spot after class. Let’s continue our strategy meeting there.”
When she approached the group, Shi Weiliang bashfully said, “My parents said they would support me in any way they could when they heard I was participating. They said they’re willing to cook for us until the competition, too.”
Wu Dayong effused, “Why are we still here, then? Shi Weiliang’s restaurant is the premium type!”
“So pathetic,” He Shi mocked as he nudged Wu Dayong’s shoulder. He then solemnly asked Shi Weiliang, “Do we get rice refills?”
At Eight Deities, their most perceptive person and best strategist opined first, “There are five more contests. I feel that everyone left is fairly close in all five subjects. I can’t think of anyone who stands out in any particular subject.”
Maybe out of anger over the last accident, Wang Zi scoffed, “Let’s have an equestrian contest. I’ll give you a three second head start.”
Wu Dayong: “I’d give him six!”
He Shi: “Seven.”
Zhou Teng: “I hope you all can walk the walk! Go compete if you’re so good!”
The three turned away and whistled.
Su Xiao chuckled. “I guess that means you’re all fairly close in skill, then. I’m not very good at equestrian, either, although I can run faster than a horse now.”
Everyone else: “…”
“I really am bad at equestrian, though. Keep going, Zhou Teng.”
Zhou Teng: “Huh? Oh, right. So, I was thinking we need to ask for assistance from external sources. Let’s fill the roles we can, and then we’ll ask others to help for the ones we have no hope at, such as calligraphy and rites. We aren’t really that bad. I mean, we could get by if we competed.”
Wang Zi: “Don’t we have the academy’s self-proclaimed greatest scholar? Surely calligraphy wouldn’t be the slightest challenge for him.”
Everyone cast their gazes towards He Shi, everyone except for Wu Dayong, who queried, “Who? Me?”
He Shi sighed and then kicked Wu Dayong. “As much as I’d like to tell you I could win it, writing documents is only one facet of calligraphy, not to mention it is the event with the least weight among the six events. I’m confident when it comes to writing documents, but I bet Brother Zi Ang rivals my calligraphy abilities. That being the case, I’m not better than the other classes in calligraphy.”
Everyone heaved a big breath, everyone except Wu Dayong, who said, “I know someone who’s pretty good at calligraphy.”
Everyone looked up and whacked Wu Dayong over the head. “Then tell us!”
“Show some respect for the smartest man in the room, please.” Wu Dayong rubbed his head whilst telling them, “Our class’s Mu Anan, duh.”
Everyone had an “aha” moment, everyone except Su Xiao, who questioned, “Who?”
Zhou Teng politely reminded, “The girl who wrote you the love letter.”
“Love letter? … ‘You are My 14th July’?!” An unnatural white tinge came to Su Xiao’s face.
He Shi bobbed his head. “I do remember Mu Anan is an accomplished novelist and poet… in a unique way. There’s quite a number of her works at the academy, but I don’t have the guts to read them, so I don’t know what her calligraphy standard is.”
“She’s great,” asserted the self-proclaimed smartest man in the room. “It was a respected calligrapher who recommended Mu Anan her to Principal Huang so that her talent wouldn’t go to waste. Surely Principal Huang wouldn’t accept her for her poems and novels, right? Surely.”
Zhou Teng clapped. “I never knew you could be useful until now. Could we trouble our two ladies to speak to Mu Anan on our behalf?”
Shi Weiliang and Wang Zi exchanged eye contact, then looked to Su Xiao.
“I don’t think we’re needed…”
“If somebody would just wink, she’ll jump on board.”
As Su Xiao was still stuck in 14th July, he didn’t notice the gazes on him.
Among everyone in the group, He Shi had the best grasp on rites, followed by Zhou Teng. The problem was that He Shi’s leg had yet to recover, so performing certain actions to a winning standard was impossible. Knowing this but not wanting to hurt He Shi’s feelings, Zhou Teng conveyed, “I guess we have three events sorted, then. We won’t need outside aid for rites. I shall bravely volunteer.”
Wu Dayong: “Ol’ He, we’re not downplaying your competence. Your leg isn’t 100% yet, so you’ll just lose even if you try. We only need to win four out of seven events, so let’s just consider it a handicap.”
Su Xiao patted He Shi on the shoulder. “We understand.”
He Shi: “Thank you. Let’s just consider it a freebie for them.”
Shi Weiliang: “You can’t win everything in life. Just consider it another trip on the journey.”
Wang Zi: “Heh, don’t worry about it. There are worse.”
Zhou Teng: “If you’re all so good, why don’t you sign up?! Why are we giving them a free win?! How incompetent am I to you?! Hey! Looking at me when I’m talking!”
Following a brief detour from the competition discussion, Zhou Teng said, “Chariotry, archery and martial arts are the three events left to address, none of which are our specialties.”
Wang Zi raised her hand. “I know how to fight.”
Coming from a family that operated a martial arts school, without Ming Feizhen, she’d be the best fighter in their class.
“I’m probably not as good as Xiao Han, though. I’m a little better than the average person at archery and riding a horse, but I’m definitely not good enough to beat the freaks of Iron Head Palace.”
Wu Dayong: “You can’t put people on a pedestal like that. Archery and chariotry aren’t martial arts disciplines. Heck, I’ve even seen them ride a horse or shoot an arrow; they weren’t that impressive. I think they’re about your level. You might even be able to flog them if you spend a few days learning from an expert.”
“Where are we going to find an expert wiling to teach all of a sudden? Besides, do you even know a reputable archery teacher?”
Wu Dayong had no response, so he turned to Su Xiao. “Su Xiao, you know anyone?”
“Uh… I d-, wait. I do, actually.”
“So, that’s why you’re here to learn archery from me?” Ye Luo couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Yeah,” replied Su Xiao, beaming brightly. “I shall be in your care!”