Note: I am not picking up this series, just translating up to chapter 6. See Table of Contents for details.
Chapter 4: Ancient Moon’s Fang Yuan!
The bright rays of the sun rose into the sky.
The mists in the mountains were thin and easily pierced through by the sunshine. Around 100 fifteen year old youths were currently gathered before the clan head's pavilion. This pavilion was located directly in the center of the mountain village and five stories tall. It had upturned eaves and curved roofs, as well as many guards. Before the pavilion was a large square, while the inside contained the memorial tablets of past Ancient Moon Clan ancestors. Every generation of clan elders lived in this building. Whenever there was a grand ceremony or sudden event, they would gather everyone here for deliberations as well. This was the center of everything in the village.
"Very good, you all came on time. Today is the Broadening Horizons Ceremony, the most important turning point in your lives. I won't waste any more words, so come with me." the man responsible for today was an elder of the schoolhouse. His beard and hair were both white, but he was as hale and hearty as a young man when he led them inside. Instead of going up, he led them through a large entrance to go downstairs. Pre-cut stone steps led them into an underground limestone cave.
The youths all gave out confused exclamations. This limestone cave was like a magnificent mansion, filled with stalacites that glittered in all the colors of the rainbow. Such radiance reflected off the youths' faces in gorgeous hues. Fang Yuan mingled in the center of the crowd, quietly observing everything. He mused, a few hundred years ago, the Ancient Moon Clan migrated from the central lands to the southern borders to settle in these mountains, all because of a spirit spring in this cave. This spring generated a large quantity of spirit stones, so it can be said to be the foundation of the Ancient Moon Clan.
A hundred steps into the cave and their surroundings had gotten darker. Moreover, they could hear the sound of running water. After rounding a curve, a ten-meter wide underground river came into view. By now, the glittering light of the stalacites had all but vanished. Still, within the darkness, the river gave off a faint, dull blue glow, as if it was Night's very own Milky Way. The river flowed from the darkness of the cave, its water incomparably limpid and clear. One could even see the fish and plant swimming within, as well as the sand and stones on its bottom.
On the opposite side of the river was a sea of flowers.
These were Ancient Moon's specially cultivated Moon Orchids. Their exquisite, blue-pink petals resembled crescent moons, their floral axis like jade. The center of each blossom glittered like glowing, luminescent pearls. Seeing them for the first time in the darkness was like seeing a large blue-green carpet dotted with countless glowing orbs.
Moon Orchids are a source of food for many different Gu bugs. This sea of flowers is our clan's largest culture medium, Fang Yuan mused to himself.
"It's really pretty."
The various youths had shining eyes as they gazed on in a mixture of excitement and anxiety.
"All right. Next up, listen as I call out names. Those who are called will ford the river to the opposite shore. Go in as far as you can and no more; of course, the farther in the better. Do you all understand?" the elder spoke.
"Understood," the youths all replied. Actually, they'd all heard from their families or seniors about this task. They knew that the farther in one walked, the better one's latent talent was. Their achievements from then on would be greater as well.
"Ancient Moon's Chen Bo," the elder read the first name from the list.
Though the river was wide, it wasn't very deep and only reached the boy's knees. Chen Bo's face was all seriousness as he stepped ashore into the sea of flowers. Immediately, he felt a invisible pressure, as if a wall existed right in front of him to block his way. As he made his way forward with difficulty, the flowers at his feet suddenly gave off a clump of light, thin and white in color. The lights converged around Chen Bo before entering his body. Instantly, Chen Bo felt the pressure on him decrease somewhat as the invisible wall before him seemed to turn soft and slacken.
He gritted his teeth and kept walking forward, stiff and forceful. After taking three steps, the pressure before him increased until it felt like a solid wall again, blocking him from advancing any further. Seeing this, the elder sighed and made a record right then and there.
"Ancient Moon's Chen Bo, three steps. No latent talent to be a Gu master. Next up is Ancient Moon's Zao Xie."
Chen Bo's complexion was ashen white as he clenched his jaw and came back across the river to his old spot. Without latent talent, he could only live as an ordinary person from now on and occupy the lowest position in his family. His body seemed on the verge of collapse from the shock. This had thoroughly smothered all his dreams for the rest of his life.
Many people shot him cold looks, while even more paid attention to the second boy to reach the shores. Sadly, this youth could only take four steps at most. He too had no latent talent. It wasn't guaranteed that everyone would possess the conditions for cultivation. Generally speaking, it was already considered not bad for five out of ten people to carry potential. Within the Ancient Moon Clan, the probabilty was slightly higher at six out of ten.
This was due to the Ancient Moon Clan's ancestor. In other words, the first elder. He was a famous and celebrated figure. Cultivation had transformed his blood so it carried the gene for cultivation. Because members of the Ancient Moon Clan had his blood, their latent talents were naturally higher.
After going through two youths in a row with no latent talent, the elder in charge had a very unpleasant xpresion. Even the experienced and prudent Ancient Moon Clan Elder was minutely wrinkling his eyebrows. Right at this moment, the schoolhouse elder called out the third name.
"Ancient Moon's Mo Bei."
"Present!" a horse-faced boy dressed in sackcloth replied lightly as he stepped out from the crowd. He was tall and big, appearing much sturdier than his peers. There was an intrepid and valiant air about him.
It took him two to three steps to cross the river, then ten, twenty, thirty steps into the flowers as light was absorbed into his body. When he reached 36 steps, he finally came to a stop. All of the youths on shore looked after him dumbstruck. The schoolhouse elder joyfully cried out, "Good, Ancient Moon's Mo Bei is a Grade B latent talent. Come here and let me see your Primordial Sea."
Ancient Moon's Mo Bei returned to the schoolhouse elder, who rested his hand on the younger boy's shoulders as he concentrated with eyes closed. Afterwards, he withdrew his hand with a nod before recording the information in his records. "Ancient Moon's Mo Bei’s Primordial Sea is six by six. It can be cultivated vigorously."
These different grades of latent talent were divided into the four levels of Jia (A), Yi (B), Bing (C) and Ding (D).
A Grade D ranked youth could be taught for three years before being promoted to a First Rank senior Gu master, becoming the foundation of a household.
A Grade C ranked youth could be taught for two years before most of them became Second Rank senior Gu masters, becoming the backbone of a household.
A Grade B ranked youth was a blessing. They were destined to become fostered talents for their households. Six or seven years of effort would make them Third Rank Gu masters.
As for Grade A ranked youths, even if there was only one, they'd be the good fortune of the entire clan. Careful and attentive care was given to them, along with all the clan resources. Ten years of cultivation would turn them into Fourth Rank Gu master, upon which they could compete for the positions of clan elder!
In other words, as long as this Mo Bei matured, he would become an elder of the Ancient Moon Clan. No wonder the schoolhouse elder was chuckling. Meanwhile, a clan elder in the shadows exhaled in relief before shooting an envious glance towards a certain elder in the crowd. That elder was also horse-faced and Mo Bei's grandfather Mo Chen. A smile had long broken out on his face as he returned the glance with a provocative look.
"How is it, my grandson's not bad at all, Ancient Moon's Chi Lian."
Ancient Moon's Chi Lian had a head full of red hair. At these words, he gave a cold snort without bothering to reply. His face was caught in an ugly, somber expression.
After an hour had passed, half of the children gathered had taken their turns in the sea of flowers. Many Grade C, Grade B ranked talents had emerged, making up about half of the people who'd crossed the river.
"Oh, the bloodline's getting thinner and thinner. Moreover, the clan hasn't produced many Fourth Rank figures in recent years to strengthen the blood. The fourth generation clan head was the only Fifth Rank master, but perished together with the Flower Wine Monk without leaving his bloodline behind. Ancient Moon Clan's descendants are getting weaker and weaker," the clan head heaved a long sigh.
Right at this moment, the schoolhouse elder called out, "Ancient Moon's Chi Cheng."
Hearing this, the various elders focused their sights on Chi Cheng, Chi Lian's grandson. Ancient Moon's Chi Cheng had a small build and a face full of pockmarks. He clenched his fists, his face covered in sweat, as if he was very nervous. After he climbed onshore, a crowd of lights gathered confusedly around him before sinking into his body. He walked 36 steps before stopping.
"Another Grade B talent!" the schoolhouse elder exclaimed.
All of the youths became restless as they shot Ancient Moon's Chi Cheng envious looks.
"Hahaha, 36 steps, 36 steps!" Ancient Moon's Chi Cheng gave a shout as he purposefully looked towards Ancient Moong's Mo Chen. Now it was Mo Chen's face that had turned green.
"Ancient Moon's Chi Cheng, is it…" Within the crowd, Fang Yuan gently stroked his chin in thought. From what he recalled, this boy had committed fraud within the Broadening Horizons Ceremony and been severely punished by the clan as a result. In actuality, his latent talent was only Grade C, but his grandfather Chi Lian falsified his results until it seemed like he was a Grade B talent.
If he wanted to, Fang Yuan had dozens of ways to do the same thing, some in even better ways than Ancient Moon's Chi Cheng. If he displayed himself as a Grade B or even Grade A talent, the clan would defintely take greater pains to foster and train him. But first and foremost, Fang Yuan had too little time after being reborn. His current circumstances made it impossible to adequately prepare such cheats. Furthermore, even if he succeded, there would be no way to cover up his cultivation speed in the future. It'd eventually give him away.
Ancient Moon's Chi Cheng was different, however. His grandfather was Ancient Moon's Chi Lian, one of the two clan elders with substantial power and influence. He could help cover up his grandson.
Ancient Moon's Chi Lian has always held a rivalry with Ancient Moon's Mo Chen. These two families form the strongest factions within the clan. In order to suppress each other, they needed their grandsons to have extraordinary latent talents. And precisely because Chi Lian was pulling the strings behind the scenes, Ancient Moon's Chi Cheng successfully concealed himself for awhile. If not for that unexpected event, nothing would've been exposed.
Fang Yuan's eyes flashed as he considered how to use this fact to the greatest advantage. If he exposed him outside, he'd earn a reward from the clan head while offending Ancient Moon's Chi Lian and his influential family. That wasn't desirable. Neither was it possible to ask for blackmail within such a short amount of time. Because he lacked actual strength behind him, any attempts at extortion would only be inviting trouble.
Just as he was lost in thought, the schoolhouse elder suddenly called out his name. "Ancient Moon's Fang Yuan!"
 Chen Bo (陈博) – Chen is a surname that can also mean "put on display, old, stale," Bo is "rich, abundant, erudite."
 Zao Xie (藻榭) – Zao can be "algae, aquatic plants, literary embellishment," Xie is a "pavilion or house on a terrace."
 Mo Bei (漠北) – Mo is "desert, indifferent/unconcerned," Bei is "north." Mobei is also the name for Outer Mongolia (north of the Gobi Desert). Mo Chen's grandson.
 Mo Chen (漠尘) – Mo is the same as above, Chen is "dust, dirt, the mortal world."
 Chi Lian (赤练) – Chi is "red, loyal, single-hearted," Lian is "white silk, practice, experienced."
 Chi Cheng (赤城) – Chi is the same as above. Cheng is "city wall, town."