Han Li rubbed his chin and swept his spiritual sense past the crowd of murmuring Qi Condensation cultivators.
"What an unfamiliar face, is he a new disciple?"
"Why did he arrive with Martial Aunt Mu?"
"Is he a relative of Martial Aunt Mu? Why else would he arrive together with her?"
Han Li clearly heard many suspicious and envious words from the crowd and he inwardly sighed. Soon after, he stepped away from the hall's entrance and entered the crowd. Even within the crowd, Han Li could still feel plenty of gazes examining him.
At that moment, Han Li heard a voice transmission with a straightforward tone, "Junior Martial Brother Han. I didn't think I'd see you again so soon."
Han Li turned his head in surprise and spotted a large man standing about ten meters behind him. He was Du Dong, the suspicious Qi Condensation cultivator that had entered Dayspring Mountain at the same time as him.
He was currently calling out to Han Li with a wide smile.
An odd expression flickered from Han Li's eyes but he wore a smile and politely saluted him, "So it turned out to be Senior Martial Brother Du. Are you doing well with Martial Uncle Jiang?"
Martial Uncle Jiang was the white-haired old man that Dong Du was assigned to.
"Yes, I'm doing very well." The large man chuckled. He appeared to be a rather simple and honest character.
Han Li inwardly sneered, but he maintained a polite exterior as they shared their experiences with each other from the past year.
He heard that the white-haired old man believed that Du Dong was rather talented in refining talismans and wished to heavily nurture him. With that said, Du Dong wore a smile full of excitement.
When Han Li heard him, he felt slight pity towards the white-haired old man. Du Dong wasn't someone who should be nurtured. The old man would likely be implicated in whatever plans this shady individual may have.
Of course, Han Li had no intentions of warning Martial Uncle Jiang and continued to intermittently chat with the large man.
At that moment, the large man suddenly wore a mysterious expression and said, "Junior Martial Brother Han, did you know? Your mentor, Martial Aunt Mu, is the top beauty in Dayspring Mountain, and she is also among the top three beauties in the Drifting Cloud Sect. You may have caused quite the uproar by arriving with her."
"May have? I already did!" Han Li bitterly laughed and glanced around with a trace of helplessness.
Du Dong then changed the subject and casually asked, "Since you two arrived together, did Martial Aunt say anything regarding what this meeting is about?"
"Oh! No, but it seems Senior Martial Brother Du heard something? Wouldn't it be better for you to tell me?"
Han Li's calm expression was replaced with a mysterious smile as he deeply looked at Dong Du.
Under Han Li's penetrating gaze, the large man's honest smile had frozen. Du Dong was left overwhelmed from a sensation of immense scrutiny as if his secrets were laid bare.
But soon Han Li turned his head and this feeling disappeared as if it were merely a misperception. Regardless, the man was left bewildered and he quickly bid his farewells before heading to meet with a group of acquainted Dayspring Mountain disciples, not daring to stay in Han Li's company.
A slight sneer momentarily appeared on Han Li's face when he saw him walking away. At that moment, Silvermoon spoke within his mind, "Brother Han, did you deliberately scare him? I fear that he will later hold suspicion towards you. Won't he be a detriment?"
Han Li responded using his spiritual sense, "I might not clearly know his identity, but I am certain that nothing good will come of him so I made sure that he'd take the initiative to distance himself from me. If something major did happen, then I will avoid being implicated. As for any suspicion he might hold, how would that affect me? He would merely become more careful of me, and it's not like he could succeed in attacking me. I merely wish not to be associated with him. I have no intention of interfering with his plans."
Silvermoon didn't reply, and it appeared that she recognized the reason in Han Li's words. In the end, if Du Dong maliciously conspired against the sect, anybody close to him would certainly come under the suspicious notice of the sect's upper echelon, something that Han Li would certainly wish to avoid.
In the following moments, Han Li examined the crowd of disciples in solitude.
There were disciples of both genders and of all ages. There were also those with cultivations that didn't match their age, such as young cultivators already at the peak of Qi Condensation.
There were also a few gorgeous young woman, but all of them had a group of similarly aged men at their side. It seems young, beautiful female cultivators were pursued the same way in every sect.
Just as Han Li was lost in thought, the hall's gate eventually opened and a dignified voice spoke out, leaving the Qi Condensation disciples in silenced awe.
"All Dayspring Mountain Disciples are to enter the hall!"
This faint man's voice belonged to the Dayspring Mountain Lord, the mid Core Formation cultivator surnamed Xin that Han Li had met when he was assigned to the mountain.
When the disciples outside the hall heard him, they all lowered their heads and respectfully said, "We sincerely accept Martial Ancestor's orders!" Afterwards, the crowd immediately walked into the hall in two orderly lines. Because Han Li was among the last to enter, he saw that Du Dong was also among the last to enter the Cleansing Heart Hall.
The area within the large hall was vast, spanning at least a kilometer wide with several tens of lofty pillars scattered throughout. Each of the pillars were embedded with smoothly carved moonlight stones, illuminating the hall with a faint white glow. The hall was entirely empty apart from the two thrones that were placed at the very front.
Within these two chairs sat a white-robed man with a scholarly appearance and a grey-clothed old man with fierce eyes and messy hair.
In front of the two thrones stood two rows of over ten Foundation Establishment cultivators.
The elegant beauty surnamed Mu and the youth surnamed Yu that had led Han Li into the sect were both standing in the second row. As for the youth surnamed Miao that had questioned him when he had entered the sect, he was standing in the first row, looking just as sickly and pale as before.
When the disciples entered the hall, they all simultaneously knelt and saluted the two sitting in the chairs, "Disciples pay their respects to Martial Ancestor Xin and Martial Ancestor Yu!"
"That's enough, stand!" The middle aged man swept his arm with a smile and had the crowd of disciples stand.
The Qi Condensation disciples then split off into two rows and stood at each side of the hall. Han Li and Du Dong both happened to stand near the hall's entrance.
Han Li swept his spiritual sense past the old man with the fierce expression and found that he was only an early Core Formation cultivator. He was the deputy mountain lord that he had heard of but haven't seen, "Martial Uncle Yu".
After Han Li inspected him, he recalled his spiritual sense from a lack of interest.
In the next moment, Mountain Lord Xin began to slowly speak, "I'm sure you disciples already know why I've summoned you all here. Yesterday, our sect received an official letter from the Ancient Sword Sect. The next Sword Trial Assembly will be held in a half year's time. As we hosted the last competition, it is the Thousand Possibilities Sect's turn to host it in the east of the Dreamcloud Mountains. In accordance to the usual practice, each of the three sects will send thirty disciples to participate in the Sword Trial Assembly. The final ten that remain in the competition will be heavily rewarded. As such, we must first select the best of our sect to participate."
With that said, he paused for a moment before continuing, "Of course, each of the sect's six mountain lords will be able nominate one person that will be able to participate in the Sword Trial Assembly without measuring their skill. As for the other twenty-four slots, they will be vied for by the disciples that meet the requirements. These victorious disciples will then be advised by sect elders in the time remaining before the Sword Trial Assembly. Yesterday, I had a meeting with the Sect Master and the other mountain lords where we decided that the sect's Sword Trial Selection will take place in a month. But first, I must give an explanation of the two conditions required to participate for those that are unaware. Any participants must be less than thirty years old and possess a minimum cultivation at the tenth layer of Qi Condensation, else they will be barred from joining. That is all. Now, if you meet the minimum conditions and wish to vie for a position, you have until the incense burns away to decide. Oh yes, the disciple that I and Deputy Mountain Lord Yun selected to participate without trial is your Martial Aunt Mu. Jun'er, go ahead and light the incense."
"As you bid, Master." The youth surnamed Yu immediately stepped forward and swiftly took out a bronze cauldron from his storage pouch. He then set it at the center of the hall and placed a stick of incense in it.
With a flash of light from his hand, fragrant smoke began to spiral towards the sky.