The next day, the autumn wind was as desolate as ever as Yang Qi made his way to the east, far, far from Redleaf City. Along the way, he saw the turmoil and chaos of war. Many city magistrates were founding nations and mustering troops to campaign across the lands. War had broken out, and the common people were the ones to suffer.
The vassal cities were like a pack of dragons with no leader, and no quarter was being given in the fights which were breaking out everywhere.
Yang Qi traveled for three days and three nights, during which time he saw over a hundred battles. Pillaging and looting were present everywhere.
Yanhaven was located in a relatively remote region that had not truly been touched by the flames of war. After all, the Rich-Lush Continent was a massive land, with huge cities everywhere. Some of them were ten times larger than Yanhaven, with so many energy arts experts that they were difficult to number.
On more than one occasion, Yang Qi sensed Masters of Energy fusing their energy with the clouds.
Instead of flying, he traveled mostly on foot; resorting to his Fiend-Devil Wings only when he found himself in extreme danger.
After all, experts abounded, and he was no longer in Yanhaven. If someone discovered who he was and what he could do, it could lead to complications.
Yang Qi had already made a decision not to use the Strength of the Hell-Crushing Godmammoth when he got to the Demi-Immortal Institute, at least not unless it was absolutely necessary. Considering how many experts would be around, it would be a problem if people started picking up on the clues about him.
A godly-class energy art. What did that imply? It implied a connection to god-spirits in heaven, something that even the Demi-Immortal Institute would covet.
Right now, Yang Qi had the power of ten ancient megamammoths, which meant that even the most random energy arts move he used would be backed with endless power, and made him virtually omnipotent.
Once he broke through to the Master of Energy level, and truly began to cultivate his Hellfire Crucible, he would be able to melt and refine all sorts of true energy. Then, whatever energy art, martial art, or consummate discipline he encountered could be easily acquired and mastered.
Most people could only cultivate a handful of energy arts before running the risk of encountering a conflict between two of them, and damaging or destroying their meridians.
Yang Qi tucked such thoughts away and focused on the road; it would still be another two months before he would arrive at the Demi-Immortal Institute.
Thankfully, it was not a boring journey. There was plenty of scenery, including important historical sites. When he had moments to spare, he would take the time to study the blue thumb-ring.
Continued examination only went to confirm that it was a very peculiar object. No matter how he tried to send his true energy into it, the energy would disappear as surely as a rock thrown into the ocean. It seemed boundless and never-ending inside, as though it weren’t jade, but rather, something from another world.
As time passed, he fiddled with the ring and tried different ways of getting his true energy into it, but it was all to no avail.
However, he was becoming increasingly convinced that it was a valuable treasure, and that it was simply a case of him not yet being able to unlock its secrets.
Perhaps if he could become a Master of Energy, the resulting transformations to his true energy would be enough to crack the secret of the ring.
“What is this thing anyway? And how come I can't get into it with my true energy?”
In terms of his cultivation base, he could tell that he had already reached the ultimate peak of the eighth phase. His soul was already connecting to his true energy, and from the resulting fluctuations, he was sure that he was on the very verge of rising to the ninth phase.
As he traveled, he made sure to continue working on cultivating his true energy, as well as the various martial disciplines he had at his disposal. By now, he had pushed his three public-facing techniques to the point of perfection.
Of those three, the Invincible King’s Fist and the Golden Bell Rampart could both be considered hard and unyielding, whereas the Four Seasons Swordplay was all-encompassing and utilitarian.
Yang Qi could tell that because of those three energy arts, the true energy that flowed through his meridians was somewhat heterogeneous. And if he continued to focus on cultivating those arts, he might eventually lose control of them.
It was only because he also cultivated the Strength of the Hell-Crushing Godmammoth that his meridians and sea of energy could endure to this point.
Having all sorts of energy arts at one’s disposal wasn’t necessarily a good thing; purity was often the best route.
It was for that reason that, after acquiring the Four Seasons Swordplay, Yang Zhan had flushed the true energy of the Invincible King’s Fist out of him. Then, he had focused fully on the new technique. By maintaining purity of energy, he could ensure that even if he did experience some problem it wouldn’t lead to a true energy spasm.
For similar reasons, Yang Qi was working hard to make progress with his Hellfire Crucible. If he could melt and refine all sorts of true energy, then he could use any techniques he acquired, and any type of energy art. Hard and unyielding. Soft and feminine. Frigid cold. Scorching hot….
“The Demi-Immortal Institute…. I wonder what it’s like. I can’t wait to find out. I'm on my way, Aunt. And I'm coming for you, Yun Hailan and Song Haishan!”
Yang Qi’s eyes shone with an incisive luster.
Considering his miraculous abilities, and the Strength of the Hell-Crushing Godmammoth, he was confident that he could earn a name for himself in the Demi-Immortal Institute, and accomplish amazing things.
At dawn, he emerged from an inn in a large city. Having paid for his accommodations, he blurred into motion, vanishing without a trace.
He was now holding nothing back in terms of speed.
A month later, after a multitude of experiences on the road, he reached the Demi-Immortal Institute, which was located in the most flourishing part of the Sage Ancestor Plains, right in the middle of the Rich-Lush Continent.
Stretching out on either side of the road were endless expanses of land. Nine rivers snaked through those plains, creating a complex pattern that surrounded an enormous city.
That city was the most bustling place in the Rich-Lush Continent, the imperial capital, Sage Ancestor City.
This was the home of the Sage Ancestor Dynasty, which commanded veneration from thousands upon thousands of vassal states.
Opposite of Sage Ancestor City was a collection of ancient, majestic buildings that stretched out for hundreds of kilometers in all directions. The buildings fairly radiated the sensation of learning and culture, a righteous and noble aura that filled the area.
This enormous collection of buildings was none other than a fountainhead for civilization.
The Demi-Immortal Institute!
‘How majestic!’ Yang Qi thought when he first caught sight of the institute and city. He was literally a country bumpkin catching sight of the biggest forces in the lands, and couldn’t hold back from craning his neck to look this way and that. All roads in the Sage Ancestor Dynasty led here, and as they neared, the traffic on them never ceased, no matter the time of day. Even at nighttime, the entire area would be brightly lit with fires and lamps.
It was quite a contrast to the turmoil and chaos of war that Yang Qi had seen on his way here.
With both Sage Ancestor City and the Demi-Immortal Institute being located here, there was enough military power to keep the peace for tens of thousands of kilometers in all directions.
Yang Qi made sure to hide his energy arts deep inside himself, making him seem like an ordinary person. Then, he entered Sage Ancestor City, where he found an inn to stay the night. The following morning, he headed over to the entrance of the Demi-Immortal Institute.
It was like an enormous temple, with countless towering structures here and there, so expansive that it was impossible to take in with a single glance. At the same time, it was so austere and impressive that no one would ever think to try to enter it unlawfully.
Of course, Yang Qi went directly to the hall set aside for receiving new students.
Outside was a square constructed of sparkling and translucent white stone slabs, so large it could fit hundreds of thousands of people.
As for the building that housed the entrance hall, it was so tall that one could easily get a crick in the neck from trying to glimpse its top. It was adorned with gold and jade to the point where it seemed completely holy and dignified.
Quite a few individuals could be seen kneeling in various locations in the square. There were young ones, middle-aged people, and even the elderly. Some were rich, some were poor.
This was the entrance to the grand Demi-Immortal Institute.
Yang Qi had asked around in the city the night before, and knew that people came every day to the main entrance, hoping to get accepted to study there.
Some were so devoted that they would remain kneeling for nine days and nine nights.
It was even said that people would occasionally drop dead from waiting there for too long.
This was the most prestigious educational establishment in all the lands, and therefore, being a part of it gave one incredible social standing. Yang Qi could even see some experts in the eighth phase, kneeling there quietly.
When Yang Qi simply showed up and started walking toward the entrance, many of those kneeling in the square noticed, and began to comment amongst themselves.
“That guy’s got a lot of guts. Does he think he’s just going to walk into the Demi-Immortal Institute?”
“He’s not going to get in. People who try to enter the Demi-Immortal Institute uninvited get killed instantly.”
“Is he out of his mind?”
“Calm down. Lots of crazy people try to get into the Demi-Immortal Institute in the hopes of getting famous. It was only a few days ago that a few youngsters came along and challenged the experts here. In the end, they were all beaten with a single palm strike. See the freshman students at the gate? They all have extremely profound energy arts.”
As Yang Qi got closer, someone suddenly yelled out in a voice that shook the surroundings. “Stop right there! You can’t just walk right into the Demi-Immortal Institute. If you want to join, kneel outside like everyone else, and wait for good fortune to come.”
A young man wearing the uniform of the institute walked out, looking very imperious as he glared at Yang Qi. Apparently, he didn’t think anyone out here was worthy to even talk to him.
In fact, he was acting exactly like the blue-robed young man from the Sea God Institute.
That was how the people from the institutes often acted, as though they existed on a higher level than anyone else. In the Rich-Lush Continent, there were a lot of organizations like the House of Spring and Autumn who weren’t called institutes. They were considered to be of a lower level, and were in some ways dissident groups, as opposed to the institutes, who were the orthodox practitioners of energy arts.
Only the four institutes truly represented culture, civilization, and great daos.
Standing in front of the long corridor that led into the institute itself were these students, who kept watch as surely as if they expected an imminent invasion.
Yang Qi knew that even though these were the lowest-ranked students, the freshmen, they would still be treated with utmost honor and respect wherever they went.
Acting neither servile nor overbearing, Yang Qi said, “I have a letter here instructing me to report in.”
With that, he took out the letter from his aunt, Yang Susu.
Printed on the outside of the letter in ancient script was the word Demi-Immortal. Anyone who looked at it would be able to tell at a glance that the letter came from the institute itself. 
When the freshman caught sight of the letter, a solemn expression overtook his face. Not even opening it, he nodded and said, “Wait here for a moment while I report the matter to my superiors.”
1. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but I need to point out that “Demi-Immortal” is not the literal translation of the name of the institute. The two characters that make up the name are very complex and could be interpreted many different ways. I’m interpreting them as “Demi-Immortal” based on a wordplay explanation that comes up way later in the book.