The smell inside the carriage was unpleasant, but this could hardly be surprising. The optimal capacity for this carriage was only ten people, but currently there were about thirty young children squeezed into the carriage. Even if young children had smaller bodies than adults, the space inside the carriage was intolerably cramped.
The clever Han Li had chosen a seat near to the sides when he had first entered the carriage and was now stealthily observing the other children.
The children who had registered or been nominated to take the test at the Seven Mysteries Sect could be segregated into three different groups based on their clothing and bearing.
In the first group, there was a youth wearing silk clothing seated in the center of the carriage, surrounded by the majority of the children.
This youth’s name was Wu Yan. He was 13 years old, one of the oldest children to be seated inside the carriage. Normally, he would not be even here since his age had already exceeded the age limit, but one of his older female cousins was married to someone of authority inside the Seven Mysteries Sect. Therefore, Wu Yan’s age was purposely overlooked and he was allowed to join the selection. Wu Yan’s family ran a martial arts dojo, so he had access to a considerable amount of wealth. From a young age, he had practiced external martial arts. Even though his talent could not be considered excellent, when facing against Han Li’s type—those children who had never practiced martial arts before—it was more than enough for Wu Yan to trample them underfoot.
It was very clear that children like Wu Yan, who came from powerful wealthy families and had previously practiced martial arts, could be considered the elite within the groups of children inside the carriage.
The second group of children were from different backgrounds: some came from the families of shopkeepers, some came from the families of workers, or families of craftsmen, etc. However, they all had one special thing in common; they grew up in the city. Thus, from an early age, they had learned from the elders of their families on how to observe people and know what was beneficial for them. Because of this, these people surrounded Wu Yan and repeatedly called out “Young Master Wu” and “Big Brother Wu” to curry favor. Wu Yan seemed to be used to being fawned over.
The third group of children were people like Han Li; this group came from remote and poor villages. They usually made do with what they had, were poor, and had suffered a life of hardship and strife. Only five to six people belonged to this third group, creating a minority inside the carriage. They usually kept to themselves, and had a quiet demeanor, not even daring to speak or laugh loudly. They were a refreshing change when compared to those loud children.
After the horse carriage exited Green Ox Town, it sped westward and made a few detours to visit other locations and collect even more children. On the fifth day, they managed to arrive at the Celestial Rainbow Mountain, the home of the Seven Mysteries Sect, near sundown.
The first thing the children saw after exiting the carriage was the beautiful, captivating sunset. It was only when Protector Wang started to rally the children that they woke up from their daze and continued proceeding forward.
Celestial Rainbow Mountain was originally Falling Phoenix Mountain. Legend has it that during ancient times, a five-coloured phoenix fell on this location, then gradually transformed into the mountain. After this place was discovered by humans, they realized how beautiful the sunset looked behind the mountain and rosy pink clouds. Inspired by the majestic image, the humans decided to rename this place Celestial Rainbow Mountain.
The Celestial Rainbow Mountain was the second largest mountain in the Jing Province after the Bai Mang Mountain. It was extremely spacious, spanning a radius of ten Li. The Celestial Rainbow Mountain was actually a mountain range consisting of ten mountain peaks, each of them being incredibly dangerous, and under the control of the various divisions of the Seven Mysteries Sect.
The main mountain peak of the Celestial Rainbow Mountain was named the “Setting Sun Summit”; it was treacherous and dangerous beyond comparison. Not only was it extremely steep, there was only a single path between the peak and base of the mountain. After the Seven Mysteries Sect rebuilt their roots in this area, they set up a total of thirteen checkpoints on the path up the mountain. Some of these checkpoints were hidden while others were out in the open. They were prepared for every single route that the Feral Wolf Gang might use to invade the mountain.
As Han Li followed the escorts in front of the group, he surveyed his nearby surroundings. Suddenly, the escorts stopped as waves of friendly and amicable voices rang out.
“Little Brother Wang, why did you arrive so late? You’re two days late.”
“Division Head Yue, we were delayed by the journey here, sorry for causing you to worry.” Standing in front of all the children, Protector Wang replied respectfully as he bowed to a red-faced old man. Protector Wang’s stern facade was instantly replaced by a look of fawning.
“Which batch of children is this?”
“This is the batch number seventeen.”
“En!” This Division Head Yue pompously looked towards Han Li and the other children.
“Send them to the courtyard, let them rest for tonight. Tomorrow morning, we’ll begin the selection process. Send those who fail or break the rules back down the mountain.”
“Understood, Division Head Yue.”
Walking atop of the mountain’s stone steps, the children were tremendously excited, but no one dared to speak loudly. Despite their young age, the children somehow knew that this place would determine their destiny.
Protector Wang was in the lead and greeted several figures on the way to the children’s sleeping quarters. It could be seen that he was familiar with a lot of people and was quite popular in the region.
The majority of the people they met on their way were all wearing green clothes and were equipped with a blade or sword. Even those that appeared empty-handed wore pouches full of mysterious items around their waists. From their bearing and conduct, one could tell that all of these people were somewhat proficient at martial arts.
Han Li and the rest of the children were brought to a mountain peak that seemed lower in height in comparison to the other mountain peaks. On the summit, there was a house made of mud, built for the children to sleep in during the night. As he slept, Han Li dreamed that he was wearing silk, had a golden sword in his hands, and possessed peerless martial arts, soundly beating the village blacksmith's sons who he previously were no match for. Then he woke on second morning, still reminiscent of his dream.
Protector Wang did not let the children enjoy breakfast. Instead, he brought all of the children down the mountain to a steep slope containing many bamboo shoots. There, Division Head Yue and a few other youths whom Han Li didn’t recognize were already waiting for them.