The way the Xaoi Sect Disciple Selection was designed, there were three groups. The young group consisting of 10-12-year-olds where the minimum requirement was to be solidly in the lower tiers of the 1st realm, the 13-14-year-olds who had the minimum requirement of being in the middle tiers, and the 15-year-olds who were in the higher tiers. If one didn’t reach the peak tier by the age of 16, then they would have no chance of being able to enter the Xaoi Sect.
“However,” the man on stage continued. “This is the minimum requirement just to get into the selection, and not a guarantee of success. Each of you will have to participate in three challenges. The first two challenges will eliminate 90% of you.”
His words caused some mumbling. While most people knew this already, there were a few who hadn’t studied up on it or thought such a system was unfair. In the end, 99% would be eliminated by the third challenge. It was a bitter pill to swallow, especially given how hard many of these practitioners had to work just to be there. Some had risked their lives dozens of times, traveled countless miles, only to be turned away at the first challenge.
The grumbling quieted immediately as the man continued. “The final challenge will rank the remaining. Those in the top 100 will be permitted as outer disciples. Those in the top ten will have the potential to become inner disciples.”
“What do you mean by potential?” A certain boy stepped out.
Several shot him a dirty look. His intention was clearly to stand out. There were 100,000 people there, but only one person dared to step forward and call out to the immortal on stage. He didn’t look annoyed. Maybe he expected this question, as he only gave a small nod and continued.
“Inner disciple isn’t so easy a position to hold. You may have heard that getting to the top of your year guarantees you a spot as an inner disciple. This is a lie spread during each disciple selection. What if one year the disciples were all subpar? Should we allow them resources just because they were lucky? No, ultimately, being in the top three of each age group will only give you the chance of being an inner disciple. Three age groups, three top three, plus a selection plus the 1st place outer disciple of appropriate age.”
This caused the group to roar up in protest. These untrained disciples were going to be pitted against someone already in the Xaoi sect? He had said that ten people had the chance to become an inner disciple. The fact that one of them was already a disciple trained by the Xaoi sect, numerous people were shouting about how unfair and unjust this was. Bao bi remained silent, but he could see Jiang Bo furrowing his brow unhappily. The fact that 99.99% of these people wouldn’t even reach that point seemed to be lost on them.
The man raised his hand, and pressure descended, causing everyone to quiet up quickly. He put a mocking sneer on his face.
“You want fairness? Do you want justice? These kinds of things don’t exist in the immortal world. The only thing that speaks is strength!” he shouted. “If you can’t even defeat the top 15-year-old outer disciple, what right would you have to be an inner disciple?”
Several lowered their heads, admitting that he was correct in his reasoning. If someone was accepted at the age of twelve, and then spent three years working to reach the top of the outer disciples from his age group, what did it matter if someone else came along if they weren’t his match? Where was his fairness if he could never have a chance to move to inner disciple? The whispering now came to people wondering just who this disciple was that would be competing against them. New bets would be made to incorporate this guy too.
“I must warn you all, that even he might not be able to reach inner disciple.” The man continued. “Each year, only one or two become inner disciples, and some years there are none!”
“How can someone even become one then?”
“Isn’t this excessive?”
This guy seemed to enjoy stringing the crowd along with his declarations. This resulted in more shouts of disapproval. Bao bi didn’t understand why everyone was acting so childish. Well, admittedly, they were children, but they were also cultivators, yet they seemed to whine about everything. What he didn’t realize was that most of these people were pampered at home. Since learning they could cultivate, they were given every resource and consideration. In short, there was a great deal many spoiled people within this crowd. Their talents had been wasted on their large egos.
Thankfully, the Xaoi sect was used to these kinds of people. The Xaoi Disciple Selection was intended to be a humbling process, designed to bring people down a peg. This is why there were ultimately three chances to join so that those who came arrogantly could get slapped in the face once, and even twice if it was required before their ultimate fates were decided. The man on stage didn’t get angry over the whining and complaining, and instead remained aloof, with a slightly mocking smile.
“Resources are limited, and they won’t be wasted on failures.” He continued. “Only those that prove their worth will be acknowledged by us.”
Bao bi also noticed that he didn’t mention core disciples at all. While he had heard the others talk excitedly about going straight to becoming a core disciple, the way the man on stage talked, this wasn’t even a possibility at all. It seemed like there were a lot of people who wanted to run before they could even walk. As the mumbling finally calmed down again, the man’s demeanor grew more serious. He waved his hand, and a pathway seemed to appear as if from the mist. It led to another stage other than the one the challengers were already on.
In the middle of the second stage was a ten-story pagoda. In front of the pagoda were a circle of stages, each one had intricate ruins cut into it. The entire thing appeared out of nowhere. Both those watching and the challengers below all started muttering in surprise.
“This is the 1st array and the source of the first test.” The man declared. “When you step on the platform, you will begin the test immediately. The challenge is simple. You must remain standing. You will be subjected to increasing pressure. All immortals can give off pressure that can freeze opponents and distract enemies. A powerful enough immortal could kill a mortal just by using his presence.
“You may have all felt my pressure some time ago. I held back, but if I used all of my pressure on one of you, you would be forced to your knees in an instant! This array will replicate that pressure. All you need to do is step on the platform. The pressure will increase every minute. You must last ten minutes standing on the platform. By that point, the 15-year group will be experiencing pressure from some in the 9th tier of the third realm. You may begin whenever you are ready.”
“For everyone? What about us in the lower age group?” Someone shouted.
“This is a test of willpower. If you lack the willpower to stand tall, then you don’t have what it takes to be in the Xaoi sect.”
A few people gasped or whispered excitedly. Those that were older grinned, as they felt that they had the advantage in this one. People at the same level would feel no pressure, which meant that the handful like Bao bi who had made it to the 2nd realm had a major advantage over everyone else. They wouldn’t even feel pressure until halfway through.
To someone already in the 3rd realm, this wouldn’t be a particularly difficult challenge at all. . By nature of their lower levels, the younger was at a disadvantage. Bao bi admitted there was a logic to it though. Starting younger meant you needed a certain degree of mental maturity. This would weed out those younger who wasn’t truly mentally prepared for the pain and harshness of cultivation.
However, that didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be any challenge at all. At this stage, everyone would still be looking to stand out. For those in the higher levels of cultivation, they’d be seeking to be noticed by the Xaoi sect. They wanted to stand out as exemplary. This would give them the best chance to reach the coveted inner disciple position. Thus, they would all try to stay on the platform as long as possible. Just because you only needed to be on for ten minutes to win didn’t mean that some of them didn’t desire to last longer than the rest.
This was also a test that wasn’t purely about cultivation. While higher cultivation would benefit someone, it was ultimately a test of willpower. Someone a tier or so lower had the chance to rise over their competition if they exuded enough will and desire. That being said, there was a difference between wanting to stand out and wanting to be first. The man declared that they could go, but after thirty seconds, no one had moved.
As the only non-child in the crowd, Bao bi was just about to move first when he heard a snort. Another boy walked out. He was the boy who has dared to ask a question first. Now, he arrogantly walked in front of everyone else. He appeared to be in the middle-age group. Bao bi could feel that he was in the middle tiers of the 1st realm as well. Bao bi could sense he was at the 5th tier. He certainly wasn’t at a level where he could act arrogantly, but he still had his chin up.
“Since no one else has the courage, I guess it will be me.”
It likely did take courage to stand in front of 100,000 elites and raise your chin. While some called that courage, others would call that idiocy. A few contenders not satisfied with his town muttered to themselves. They wished that they had the guts to go out first and draw all of the attention. Unfortunately, the chance had been wasted with hesitation. The true dragons in the crowd, on the other hand, only lifted their heads in disdain. The place for standing out was on the stage. Everything before that was meaningless.
The boy crossed the bridge to the next area, but no one else joined him. Everyone wanted to see someone go before they subjected themselves to it. As he approached one of the platforms, his steps slowed. He looked back at the nearly 100,000 waiting spectators. If he backed out now, he’d be mocked relentlessly, but he had seriously thought once he went, a bunch of others would go and then he’d just stay back and let them take the test first. Tightening his fists, the boy continued forward.
“What do you think?” the old immortal asked the younger man in the immortal stage overlooking the entire assembly.
“Willpower is a hard thing to determine. I once saw a 1st realm last for fifteen minutes. However, that is the longest I have ever seen. If someone were to last over twenty minutes, I would personally make them my disciple.”
“Hah… so impulsive. I remember in my youth also making such grandiose claims. Be careful what you promise. Karma always comes to collect.” The old man chuckled to himself.
The young man frowned. “What? Do you think someone can last twenty minutes? At that point, they’d be experiencing a force greater than the Great Elder! Even I sweat when he gets angry.”
The old man smiled. “In principle, I agree. Even I cannot endure more than twenty minutes. If a child lasted, it would truly be remarkable. Then again, I’m an old man and not filled with as much youthful vigor as I once had. Ah! The first child is finally stepping onto the test. Let’s check it out.”
The two men focused their attention on the same place as everyone else. The boy stepped up onto the platform. As soon as he reached the center, the formation underneath began to glow with light. Everyone watched with bated breath, but nothing happened. A minute went by, and a few of the people in the audience shook their heads.
“Heh… is this really a challenge?” Someone muttered.
Those that looked carefully could see that sweat was starting to form on the boy’s brow. His legs were slightly shaking. Another minute passed and his face was red. People could see his legs buckling. The old man sighed.
“I guess he’s all talk.” The younger man shook his head.
The kid managed to remain another minute before collapsing to his knees. Once he fell, the light from the formation darkened and it looked like the pressure on him lightened.
“You have failed the first test. Please leave the stage.” The immortal speaker declared unsympathetically.
The kid looked like he was going to break into tears. “I can still do it! I just slipped!”
“Screw off!” He was suddenly kicked, flying off the rise completely and fall into the crowds below.
It was at that point that the contestants noticed other Xaoi disciples around the pagoda, likely there to facilitate things. The cultivator speaking only shook his head and looked back toward the remaining challengers. The boy who had failed was no longer his concern. The brutality of the scene caught several challengers off guard. They swallowed hard as they looked at the formations with a bit more wariness.
However, there wasn’t another long wait. This time, a group of five hundred people crossed over. The stage with the pagoda on it had about five hundred platforms in all. At ten minutes for each child, it was a pretty long waiting time for them all to pass. The early ones would have no advantage over the ones who went later. Those that simply wanted an answer immediately went and took the challenge. As it turned out, most couldn’t last ten minutes. Many didn’t even last the three minutes of the first guy. Particularly in Bao bi’s group, the younger kids fell much quicker.
As the waiting stage opened up the room so that people could spread out, some moved to chat while others sat down and meditating, trying to bring themselves to their ideal state. When they felt they were ready, they got up and crossed the bridge. There were enough people ready to go that all five hundred platforms were in continuous use. As to how many people succeeded, it was a rather few.
It wasn’t until the second group of five hundred that the first person made it ten minutes, and after that. Some people feared that the number would be even less than the Xaoi sect’s prediction that there would be 50 passing for every 500. However, as more groups went, the numbers went up, suggesting that those that went first included many who lacked the willpower and patience to succeed in their first place. The majority of them just wanted to get it over with.
Bao bi didn’t care one way or the other. He saw Jiang Bo and Jiang Ying Yue sitting and meditating, so he did the same It was honestly pretty boring otherwise. Had he been someone who had come all this way to watch, he’d have been disappointed. It was just watching someone stand there for a few minutes, and then either keel over or keep standing until he does keel over.
“She’s going.” Jiang Ying Yue’s voice caught Bao bi’s ear, and he looked up to see Dian Ai going across.
This was the little girl that was his age. She had been able to reach the 2nd realm despite only being ten. She was at the same level as Bao bi, so he naturally had a bit of interest. He stopped meditating to watch her, not knowing that Jiang Ying Yue next to him was biting her brother’s hand as she watched Bao bi from behind. Was Bao bi interested in that girl? Why was he watching her so intently? These kinds of thoughts went through her head.
“Ow… sister…” Jiang Bo put up with his sister’s antics the best he could.
Dian Ai went onto the platform. Bao bi wasn’t the only one who watched with interest. Those on the immortal platform also watched her progress.
“How long do you think she will last?” The younger man asked.
“She is already in the 2nd realm. That shows great perseverance. I’m afraid, however, that her age will ultimately be her failure. She won’t have the constitution of some of the older children. I don’t think she’ll make it past 12 minutes.”
The younger one nodded thoughtfully but didn’t ask any more questions. The two men might be equals in strength, but the elder trumped him in experience and intuition. There were some things that cultivation alone couldn’t give someone.
The girl got onto the stage, and time began to pass. She started breathing hard around 8 minutes. Her face grew flush at nine. Her legs became wobbly at ten. To that point, the longest person to last had collapsed only about twenty seconds past ten. It was very difficult to keep standing when you didn’t have to anymore. After all, there was no clear benefit to standing longer. It was purely for their pride. Everything held their breath as she broke the top record.
“Who is that girl?” Spectators were whispering amongst each other.
“She looks young.”
“Don’t you know? She’s only ten and already in the 2nd realm.”
As eleven minutes struck, her knees were noticeably buckling. Her eyes were closed in concentration, her nose crinkled cutely as she tried to survive just to the next second. Suddenly, she raised her foot and stepped off the platform. To this point, every other person, whether man or woman, had stubbornly remained until they collapsed to the floor.
Dian Ai herself might have been able to gain another second or two if she hadn’t chosen to step off. However, she left under her terms, and she was the first to do such. This choice was elegant as if she refused to yield to the force pushing down on her. This naturally filled some of the other children with envy, wishing they had thought to do that as well.
“11 minutes, 27 seconds. Not bad.” The young man nodded.
As she walked back across the bridge to await the next event, her eyes caught Bao bi. For a second, she froze, looking at him. This wasn’t lost on many of the people watching. Did she know that boy? Who was he? She inadvertently brought a lot of attention onto him with just that hesitation. She continued, not walking toward him, but the damage was already done, especially to Jiang Bo, who was dealing with his little sister pinching him angrily.
Two disciples watched as she left the pagoda stage and passed Bao bi. One boy leaned to the other.
“Is everything prepared?”
The other gave a slight nod. “As the elder ordered, when Bao bi comes up, he’ll get a modified platform. He’ll receive triple the pressure of any other contestant. He will not be allowed to win.”