It was a cold day. The sun hid with the excuse of winter's presence and trees shed dead leaves while shaking their branches because of the bone-chilling cold wind. Light presence of snow could be seen on the far mountaintops.
A large group of people were walking steadily on a particular road which cut through the seemingly endless plains between the third and fourth mountain. Their pace was neither slow nor fast yet full of vigour and liveliness.
The group was divided into factions. At the front of the group walked a small number of people who were either teenagers or elderly; their gait revealing nobility and grace, their faces relaxed and bearing exuding dominance over others.
Behind them was a faction of people who comparatively had a large population. But they seemed quite anxious and showed a somewhat subservient attitude towards the first group. The people in this group were of all ages and most of them were clustered, as if belonging to different families. They showed animosity towards each other while contempt towards the third group.
The third group was the largest, having people of different standings in society. Their clothes were shabby, their bodies bore signs of labour, their demeanour was nervous yet more easygoing and friendly. They walked while maintaining a fair distance from the first and second groups.
In any of these groups, there were very few who were alone. Han Xuhan was one of these oddities.
His clothes resembled a peasant's. He had a small bag on his back. While walking, he stuck close to a group of armed men wearing soldiers' attire. The soldiers were there to escort an old man with an ambiguous identity. Han Xuhan conversed with the soldiers frequently.
"Brother Shen, what's the situation in the fifth region now? Are the beast tides lessening at all? I heard the emperor invited experts from every sect to deal with those beasts once and for all."
The fierce-looking leader of the soldiers, Shen Hai shook his head and replied, " it's not as simple as you think kid. There are beasts with unbelievable strength hiding among normal beasts in the recent tides.
Almost every sect has lost a few experts and core disciples because of them. Last time I heard, there was a Devilshadow Eagle with the strength of a ninth-layer Soul Reformation realm expert. Even in the mid-level sects around the Seven Mountains, experts like that are treasured by the sect masters."
Han Xuhan sucked in a breath as he tried to imagine the strength of somebody who had reached the second great realm of cultivation, the Soul Reformation realm. But he really had no idea how to do so since he had never seen a proper and decent cultivator that powerful.
"Brother Shen, have you ever seen a cultivator of that level? Their strength has to be unimaginable!" He couldn't help but ask.
" If you pass the entrance test, you will get a chance to cultivate to that level too, as long as you are willing to work hard and have the necessary talent." Shen Hai looked wistful as if fantasizing about being a cultivator himself. For soldiers like him, strength was the most important factor in life.
At this moment a shout from the front of the group alerted everyone.
"Look! You can see the gate! There are so many tents outside in the plains!"
The whole group fell silent as they walked at a faster pace. As they approached the huge, intimidating gate, a man wearing red robes came out to greet them.
"Welcome to the Crimson Snow Sect. The entrance examination will be held in front of the gates at noon. Those with 3rd level invitations, please follow me to your personal tents and those with 1st and 2nd level invitations, go to the area in the plains where you will find the public tents," the man declared.
The small groups at the front paid no heed to the man and strode inside the gate while chatting among themselves in a relaxed manner. The man seemed to be used to this and followed behind without a single glance at the rest of the people. A few old men in the second group looked incensed but they didn't raise a ruckus. Han Xuhan took out his invitation and inspected it carefully again. It didn't contain much information.
The bearer of this invitation card has been permitted to take part in the entrance examination of the illustrious Crimson Snow Sect. Please go to the plains between the third and fourth mountain where the examination will be held within one week. Attendance is mandatory.
Under those sentences was the badge of the sect showing a crimson-coloured snowflake.
He had gotten this invitation from an influential backer of the orphanage he lived in. Apparently, the backer had noted that Xuhan was suitable for cultivation after examining him with the help of a native cultivator from a small sect. The invitation was something he had received a few years back and gladly gave it to Xuhan, telling him that if he managed to become a cultivator, their orphanage would have much more resources and influence than before. Touched from receiving such a precious opportunity, Xuhan had thanked him profusely and immediately started his preparation for this year's test. Of course, as an ordinary mortal, there was hardly anything he could use to give himself an advantage in the world of cultivation, but he had made sure to keep himself in top shape since that day.
Han Xuhan walked with the soldiers to the public tents. The old man they were guarding looked tired from the journey. It had taken them a whole day and another morning to reach the sect from the fifth region's borders.
" Little Xuhan, it's time we separated. I have some business to take care of. Go and rest for a bit. The examination will start soon," the old man said suddenly to Han Xuhan.
He smiled at the grandpa and continued walking forward. The old man nodded at the soldiers and walked off in another direction.
"Old master, you should have taken the demon chariot. Every time you pass through the intersections of space, your injury keeps worsening," Shen Hai reprimanded the old man.
"Eh, but crossing the intersection of space is the most fun part of the journey, kid." The old man laughed.
"What do you think of the child, master?" Shen Hai asked the old man as they glanced back at the boy.
"He has talent. But nothing so special," the old man replied absent-mindedly.
"Do you think he will pass?"
"Depends. But I don't think it matters."
"Shen Hai, you must keep in mind that not everything that appears simple is simple in essence. That boy looks harmless, but I suspect he is not so innocent inside .
There is an aura of heavenly punishment shrouding his very existence. And you know very well which type of people suffers that sort of punishment. If my conjecture is right, he's about to face many, many perils soon, continuously at that too. I don't think he will survive the calamity. And it'll be the best outcome for everyone if he doesn't."