Bliss. The expression on both Luo Zhirou’s and Shen Mu's faces were that of utter bliss.
They cupped their hands and bowed deeply to the Crown Prince, completely incapable of expressing their gratitude with words.
Xue Wei watched the scene with a smile on his face. He was quite satisfied with how things were progressing. Although he had no intention of siding with a faction, his friends were eager to do so considering how much of a blessing it would be for their families.
Xue Wei knew that they were different from him, and he was happy for them, but he also understood that this Crown Prince was doing it for the sake of him and his uncle.
"We will not let you down, Your Royal Highness," Luo Zhirou said while bowing. Shen Mu also said, "We will forever be your loyal subjects."
The Crown Prince seemed satisfied with what they said, and he waved his hand. "I look forward to working with you in the future," he said with an amiable smile on his face before he turned to Xue Wei.
"You might want a communication orb too?" he asked, tempting Xue Wei, but Xue Wei understood that accepting anything from this prince included being indebted to him.
"No need, Your Highness." Xue Wei laughed. "I have no one I need to communicate with. Had I known they existed, then I would have asked my uncle to give me one, but since I cannot get into contact with him, it is pointless."
The Crown Prince was slightly disappointed, but this was what he had expected. He had a hunch Xue Wei would do what he could to stay away from a specific faction, and his only aim with today’s meeting was to sow a seed of friendship in his mind.
Xue Wei, Luo Zhirou, and Shen Mu said their goodbyes to the Crown Prince and what other experts they met on their way. As they left the building made from jade, they found that the outside was completely dark and that only the path they had to walk had been lit up by the most beautiful street lamps made from various colors of jade.
"Thank you for allowing us to follow you to this banquet," Luo Zhirou and Shen Mu would repeat the same thing over and over again like a broken record. "We were able to forge up a relationship with the Crown Prince, and now we will be able to see our families flourish in the future."
Xue Wei said nothing. He just smiled. There was truly no need for thanks between them, because they were true friends.
As they made it back to the inn, they found that many of Luo Zhirou's and Shen Mu's friends were waiting for them, eager to hear what they had encountered. They too were noble-born youngsters of Tiankong City, and they understood just how big an opportunity they had lost out on.
Because of this, some of them held a grudge against Xue Wei. They had wanted him to bring them too, but others understood that they had no great relationship with him and thus it was natural for them not to be invited. Those experts were regretting never acknowledging Xue Wei in the past as Luo Zhirou had done.
Xue Wei excused himself and slipped upstairs to the room he had for himself, where he sat down and started cultivating.
He had gained a good understanding of the one person he had exchanged pointers with that day, and he had felt the power of his attacks.
This man had practiced his body and Qi at the same time. The qi would usually transform one's body, so the more Qi one had, the stronger one would become, and the more powerful one's physical body would become as well. Qi was rebuilding the body.
The burly man he had faced earlier, however, had walked down the unconventional path and had trained his body, resulting in a buff appearance.
However, this buff appearance was not only for show, he also had at least double the strength of any average Ordinary Warrior.
Still, Xue Wei had only needed half his strength to force him back five steps and make his entire body shake and tremble from the impact.
Xue Wei was very well aware that his own body was not trained. It was clear that he had not had the time it took to strengthen one's body, and the only strength he had was gained through his cultivation of Qi.
Still, he was many times stronger than an average Ordinary Warrior. It was clear that his special physique was quite unique.
The next couple of days were spent in leisure at the inn. A few gifts arrived to Xue Wei from the Crown Prince and a few other experts that wished to establish a good relationship with Xue Wei, but otherwise he had peace and quiet to train.
As the seventh day arrived, all of them checked out from the inn in the early morning and made their way to the allocated destination where they had to meet up with the captain, the commoners, and the guards.
As they arrived at the location, they found that some of the other commoner youngsters were already there. They all looked rather different from before. Some were wearing fine clothes and looked almost like nobles; others looked even more haggard than before.
There was one-third of the commoners who had not appeared by the time the captain and the guards arrived, and none of them seemed shocked by this.
"Flaunting one's wealth is the same as having a death wish within the capital," he sighed as he shook his head and looked at the now much smaller group than it had been when they set out two months prior from Tiankong City.
"It feels like a whole lifetime since we left," one of the commoners said with sadness in her eyes. She had lost quite a few friends on this trip, and she had the impression that this was just the beginning.
Others nodded their heads when they heard her. They had been through life and death struggles on their way, had experienced the vastness of the capital, and had gotten rich overnight, but while some had managed to keep their wealth, others had lost it as fast as they had gained it, robbed by thugs in the outer city.
When the Captain saw that the entire group of nobles were still intact – in fact, all of them seemed to be better than when they arrived – he could not help but be surprised.
"Well done, I guess that you all went to the Inner City?" he asked curiously, and Xue Wei nodded his head, "We stuck together in the Inner City. It is much safer than the Outer City, and we had a few errands to run as well."
"Well thought!" the captain praised them. "I did not think you would be smart enough to enter the Inner City since it is much more expensive, both the entrance fee and the inn. I imagine that a group like yours would have cost around nine gold, if not more."
Hearing this, the hearts of the commoners clenched. Nine gold was simply too much money; they did not even own that much after selling off their beast cores, so for the noble children to fork out such an amount for the sake of accommodation for a single week was simply unattainable.
"Well, enough about that. Now we are all gathered. We will wait another half hour and then we will be going to the army camp," he decided. The half-hour went by fast; the commoners were gathered even more in groups now than they had been before, and some of them were paranoidly looking around and glaring at anyone who looked at them, trying to act menacing and intimidating.
No one spoke with people from outside of their groups, even the nobles were somewhat nervous and talked only with their good friends.
Xue Wei, Luo Zhirou, and Shen Mu were standing together. The three of them said nothing and just waited for the half-hour to pass by.
As the half-hour was over, the captain finally turned away from the guards he had been speaking with. "Time is up," he said with a stern expression. There were no more people appearing. Their group, which had started with around a thousand, now amounted to around four hundred.
"It is not often that our group diminishes as much as it has," the captain said with a bit of sourness in his voice. "We lost both good guards and promising talents in the battle against the Sand Snakes. Even more were lost in our fight with the bandits, but most losses were incurred during the beast horde."
"We have also lost quite a few youngsters here in the capital. Their first visit will also be their last. I am saddened that so many died on the way, but I am proud of those who managed to prevail through these life-and-death trials."
"You have now experienced what real life is like. Your time in the army will be like this, time and time again you will experience life-and-death battles. Many of you will not survive, but those who do will be stronger, and you will become the pillar of support for our entire kingdom."
The captain had not talked much before on the way to the capital, but now that they were on the final stretch from the capital to the recruitment camp, he was suddenly very talkative.
They walked through the landscape outside of the capital towards the recruitment camp. Xue Wei noticed that many other youngsters were moving in the same direction as them.
The only difference was that there were not many big groups. Most of the youngsters were alone or escorted by a single guard, and all of them came from the capital.
As they went further and further into the land, bigger and bigger groups of youngsters could be seen heading the same direction. As the many roads started to converge into one, more people appeared, and soon the entire road was filled with people.
Although many guards could be seen on the roads, the majority were youngsters at the age of fifteen and sixteen. These youngsters were moving towards the same destination, and soon they saw a city made from tents in the distance.
The camp spread as far as the eye could see, and some tents rose into the sky while others were small and could, at most, house one person.
As they got closer, they saw a sea of people waiting outside the campgrounds, and even more people were arriving.
Soon, Xue Wei and the group he belonged to had made it to the grounds. As Xue Wei looked around, he noticed that all these people were the arriving youngsters from every part of the kingdom. So many children were here, although the majority were men, but also many women had arrived. Only a few women had been tasked with other jobs than joining the army.
The captain moved to the side and stopped. "Everyone, go and stand together with the other youngsters. Us guards will return to the capital to wait and hear news of how you have all made it in the rankings and bring that news with us back to your families."
"We cannot guide you any further if you want to survive the next decade in the army; take your life into your own hands and persevere!"
Having said that, the captain saluted and turned around. He and the guards all vanished into the distance, leaving behind a large group of youngsters that felt a wide array of emotions.Some of the emotions ranged from confusement to excitement, but a majority of it was nervousness.
They were at a loss for what to do, and they all started looking towards Xue Wei, as he was the strongest in their group. Frowning, Xue Wei scanned the area and saw the same happening all over.
"Well, for now, we are going to do as Captain said and join up with the rest of the experts. I am sure that when all of us are gathered, we will begin some sort of dividing into ranks."Previous Chapter Next Chapter
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Betareader: Soultorrent & Norwegian Viking