On the first day of the New Year, as is tradition in the Stargaze Palace, all disciples would gather outside the Main Palace in the morning. Then, they would depart for the altar and offer sacrifices to their ancestors altogether.
This altar ceremony had been passed down for more than a thousand years in the Stargaze Palace. On each New Year’s Day, all disciples must attend, unless they could not make it back due to special circumstances. However, despite not being able to make it back, they must face the direction of their homeland with a solemn expression to show their respect to the ancestors.
Across the vast altar, every disciple present stood in order of their ranking. Behind the altar, the great and prestigious temple stood there.
Inside this temple, lay the sacred memorial tablets of generations of people who had lived in the Stargaze Palace.
The five Palace Masters brought the eight Shakyamuni, ten Palace Emissaries, sixteen Elders and the other senior ranking people such as the Butlers to walk up to the altar, step by step.
With the five Palace Masters as the leaders, they started to offer incense sticks. Each stick of this incense was two fingers wide and the Palace Masters was given three incense sticks each. They then started to pray to the ancestors.
The Head Palace Master said in a clear voice: "For generations, with our ancestors of the Stargaze Palace in the heavens, I, Zhuo Buqun have brought Palace Masters Tan Zhongchi, Zhong Wuyin, Leng Qiuchi, Tian Zhixing, our Elders, and Shakyamuni to worship our ancestors. This is the time of the new year, the Stargaze will certainly honor the past and celebrate the future as we move forward. We will never bring shame to our ancestor’s name and will elevate the name of the Stargaze…"
After the Head Palace Master said the words of worship, the other four Palace Masters also made their speech. After each of them had finished, they would proceed to the second round by offering five fruits and vegetables and three domestic animals.
Next, it was the disciples turn to kneel and pray for about fifteen minutes.
The entire ceremony was grand and majestic. After the silent prayers, with the sound of the stone chimes, the entire worshipping ceremony ended perfectly.
After they had finished the ceremony, they returned to the Main Palace. To start the first day of the new year, they must make new plans and goals. The general political direction and the plans would be passed out from this Main Palace.
When they returned to the Main Palace, Zhuo Buqun thanked all the disciples for their hard work in the past year. He specifically congratulated the Core disciples.
As per the norm, the top ten from each year’s Core ranking competition would receive some rewards. Of course, the rewards would only serve the purpose of an encouragement and would not be too grand.
Since Qin Wushuang was the victor, he could be rewarded with an Upper Sky weapon of the Initial Stage. However, Qin Wushuang said: "Head Palace Master, I already have two weapons, could Shakyamuni Cang Ze bestow upon me a trained spiritual beast?"
Zhuo Buqun laughed and explained: "Those trained spiritual beast only have a portion of the bloodline of true spiritual beasts. They are different than the wild ones. Firstly, they cannot advance. They will remain at their level from the moment they were born. Thus, if you are looking to find a contract spiritual beast, the trained ones will not work. Besides, the Inner Core of the trained beast are not as pure as the wild ones. It will only have mediocre effect if used to make Pills. The success rate would only be half as the Inner Cores of the wild ones."
Overall, compared to an Initial Stage Spiritual weapon, a trained beast had much lesser value.
However, Qin Wushuang asked for the Spiritual Beast not because he wanted their Spiritual Qi, but other aspects. Regarding this use,
he did not plan to reveal it for now.
He only said with a smile: "After the exam, I became very interested in Spiritual beasts. Thus, I would like to practice training them. Please help me."
The Head Palace Masters exchanged glances with the other Palace Masters and thought for a moment. Suddenly, he seemed to have remembered something and nodded thoughtfully: "Since you are interested in training the beasts, it would not be a problem to give you one. Shakyamuni Cang Ze."
Shakyamuni Cang Ze walked out: "I am here, Head Palace Master."
"Since Qin Wushuang wishes for this, the Stargaze Palace should fulfill his wish by being flexible. Return, go pick a smart beast for him."
"Ok." Shakyamuni Cang Ze took the order.
Although Tan Zhongchi did not know the reason for Qin Wushuang in wanting a beast, he knew that his disciple’s plans were unpredictable. Thus, he did not find it strange and only smiled as he watched him.
Next, all the other disciples received their rewards corresponding to their ranks.
Finally, the Head Palace Master began to speak: "In this year’s Core ranking competition, there were many joyful changes. Being the head of the Stargaze Palace, I feel extremely joyous. It means that our Stargaze Palace have fresh blood and new faces. If the ranking had stayed the same, it means the Stargaze Palace would be facing a crisis. A sect without change would not grow nor would it last very long."
"This time, there is a special reward for the top ten from the Core ranking competition. What is this reward? It is the vicennial friendly competition between the three Empires of the east. Twenty years of time has passed in a snap of the fingers. This year’s competition will be held at the Heavenly Lake Empire. Many sects from the Great Luo will participate. However, the Stargaze Palace will be the main group. Whether we get glory or honor in the friendly competition, it would depend on us."
"Thus, the top ten from the Core Ranking competition will be the main competitors from the Stargaze Palace. If some changes were to happen to the spots, we will fill the substitute spots with the students from the lower ranks!"
Instantly, the words of the Head Palace Master made those top ten Core disciples extremely happy. Such opportunity was indeed, rare.
Being Stargaze disciples, they had always trained at the Virtuous Cloud Summit and haven’t had chance to see the outside world. Naturally, they looked forward to this opportunity when they heard this good news from the Head Palace Master.
Next, the Head Palace Master expressed some expectation for the new year. Then, he dismissed them after speaking some encouraging words.
Besides the top ten from the Core ranking competition, the other disciples returned to their own places.
The ten Core disciples stayed in the Main Palace.
The Head Palace Master said with a serious tone: "Everyone, you ten will become the main team for this friendly competition between the three Empires. This time, I have an important task to give to you guys. It’s a chance to gain some experience."
Besides Qin Wushuang, all the others listened attentively. They wanted to know what instructions the Head Palace Master wanted to give since he had spoken with such seriousness.
"For this assignment, it’ll likely serve as a warm up before the competition. I hope you guys will treasure the opportunity and stay alert. Don’t underestimate any enemies or act sloppy…" Immediately, the Head Palace Master opened his mouth and systematically narrated in full detail the words he had spoken to Qin Wushuang last night.
After hearing his words, each of those disciples showed a solemn expression.
Since this matter was related with the Heavenly Lake Empire, it would not be simple. Most likely, those Herbalist disciples were no longer part of this world.
It was highly possible that the Heavenly Lake Empire was using this as a chance it to demonstrate their military force to the Great Luo Empire. To put it precisely, they were showing off their power to the Stargaze Palace. Everyone knew that the Stargaze Palace was the number one sect in the Great Luo Empire. Even the Martial Saints of each Subordinate Country would not dare to offend their Herbalist disciples.
Thus, for sure, the Subordinate Countries would have nothing to do with the disappearance of the Herbalist disciples. However, people of the Heavenly Lake Empire would not escape suspicion.
"This matter could be light or severe. You must investigate thoroughly and not ignore any trace of evidence. If it had been done by the Heavenly Lake Empire, you can seek an opportunity to make a move. Once you make your move, don’t leave any leeway. You must kill the enemies that invaded the land of the Great Luo."
After giving the solemn instructions, the Head Palace Master looked at Qin Wushuang and said: "Wushuang, you are the victor from the Core Ranking Competition. For this matter, whether you want to or not, you must carry the responsibility of being a team leader."
The Head Palace Master glanced around with a pair of stern eyes: "All of you must work with the team leader. Do not bring any of your personal emotions into this investigation. Whoever drags down the team and compromises the investigation because of your little competitions between the Palace Houses will await inhouse punishment!"
Zhuo Buqun had rarely spoken with such a strict tone. Because of this fact, it was apparent how seriously he treated this matter. And one could also see his strict attitude regarding morale problems.
The other Palace Masters all nodded. Tian Zhixing, the Fifth Palace Master said: "You are all fellow disciples of the Stargaze Palace. While we face foreign enemies, we need to work together to fight against them. The Core Ranking Competition happens each year. You must let go of these small gains and losses from the competitions. Or else, you will end up in an embarrassing state. For my student, Miao Zhongxia, you must remember this in your heart."
Proud of his successes, Miao Zhongxia had ranked third in this Core Ranking Competition. Naturally, he would not object as he nodded to state his opinion: "I will remember the bigger picture and would not dare to commit any acts of overstepping the bounds."
Once Tian Zhixing had stated his opinion, although both the Third and the Fourth Palace Masters only had one disciple in the top ten, they had no choice but to remind their disciples. They instructed Zhao Muzhi and Deng Bohu to not harbor any hostility.
The Head Palace Master had three disciples in the top ten. They were Wei Yi, Lu Shaonan and Huang Chaoyang.
"Ok, I will not speak any extra words. Rest for two days, you will depart on the third day of the new year. No delays." The Head Palace Master instructed.
All ten disciples bowed in acceptance of the instructions and answered unanimously: "Yes."
Qin Wushuang was carrying a heavy responsibility. He had only entered the sect less than a half year ago and had only become the victor of the Core ranking competition less than three days ago. He was already carrying the responsibility of a team leader. This task was not easy.
After they were dismissed from the Main Palace, Qin Wushuang went to Shakyamuni Cang Ze and adopted a white sable that had been in training for three or four years. It had enough Spiritual Qi and was extremely obedient as it could read the thoughts of humans.
Initially, this white sable did not approve his new master, Qin Wushuang. Through the knowledge from the Beast Trainer, Qin Wushuang knew that in order to make one obey you, he should either use their language to establish an equal communication grounds or use Spiritual Qi to intimidate it.
This was the strategy of giving rewards or use of intimidation.
Currently, Qin Wushuang’s beast language ability had not yet reached a level where he could establish equal communications. However, he was more than capable of using intimidation with his Spiritual Qi.