An island appeared with a tall pagoda on it. It resonated with power and gave an ancient and mystical feel to it. Many in the audience couldn’t look at it for long before turning their head away.
“Is that… the One Thousand Demons Formation?” One of the older kids couldn’t help but ask out loud.
“What is that?” Someone else was instantly baited by their curiosity.
“One thousand experienced sect members gave a wisp of their soul to create this pagoda. It contains their power and their energy. They’re able to manifest as heroes within the pagoda to test the worthiness of those who wish to represent the honor of the Xaoi sect… or so I hear.”
“Sect heroes?” An uneasy voice spoke up.
“What kind of test is this?”
The selection speaker waited until just enough people were speaking excitedly before he raised his hands and immediately brought silence once again. He might be an elder of the Xaoi sect, but Bao bi thought he was rather skilled at pulling on and playing with a crowd’s expectations. He’d make a good circus ringleader. It was probably for the best his thoughts weren’t heard by others.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for the next phase of the disciple selection. As some of you may have already recognized, the pagoda that stands before you is an ancient formation created during the forming of our sect. This is the One Thousand Demons Formation, a powerful artifact that is designed to test anyone and everyone who wished to enter the Xaoi sect.
“Upon stepping up onto this platform, your soul will be pulled into an illusory world. There, you will encounter enemy after enemy. The difficulty of the enemies will be determined by your age. Each age group will experience enemies at their level. This is why we have the basic requirements. The youngest group will start fighting against enemies of the lower tiers, while the oldest group begins with enemies of the upper tiers.”
“Did you say start?” A young girl asked in a startled voice.
A dark grin formed on his face. “Yes, only the first few enemies will start at this level. Naturally, the more enemies you defeat, the more difficult they’ll become. Based on how many you defeat, you’ll acquire a score. The higher your score, the more likely you’ll be to pass on to the final test.”
“What score do we need to pass?” Someone else yelled out.
“There is no minimum. Rather, it will be the top 1000 contestants who move on. The rest of you will be excused.”
This caused a wave to explode across the remaining contestants. We had originally started as 100,000 contestants, but true to his word, 90,000 of them had been eliminated. The platform now contained roughly 10,000 contestants who had survived the first round, and now only the top scorers would make it to the final challenge. It was one thing being told the difficulty, but quite another seeing it in front of you.
“How can we be expected to defeat enemies more powerful than our level?” Someone cried out.
“The level given has always been a minimum requirement, not the ideal level. If I’m not mistaken, this year contains a ten-year-old who will have reached the 2nd realm.” For those who were less knowledgeable, they let out gasps of surprise. “Don’t act so surprised. There are at least fifty of your fellow examinees who are already in the 2nd realm. We wish for the best of the best. If you thought you could slink into the Xaoi sect without being the top, you’re mistaken.”
His words resulted in a bit of muttering, but it silenced much quicker with this group, who had already experienced one wave of culling. These were already the top, but to join this prestigious Xaoi sect and gain the opportunity of becoming a disciple, you had to be the top of the top. No, the top of the top of the top. It wasn’t a level anyone common could join. For some, this realization was only just starting to settle in.
“I must warn you that everything you experience within the pagoda will feel real. If you are cut, you will feel pain, and if you are disabled, you will lose your strength. So, be wary. This test isn’t timed, so take your time to conserve strength and slowly build up your score. When you leave the pagoda, you will find your bodies completely recovered, so feel free to go all out. You will be removed before you give your last breath.”
“You expect us to fight to the death?” The person who shouted this out was Bao bi.
This had shocked him a bit. Wasn’t this examination a bit cruel to place on children? The speaker once again didn’t look surprised by this, but more like he had been waiting for someone to ask.
“For those who fear the pain of death, you can flee at any time. All you have to do is surrender, and you will be taken out of the pagoda and returned to your healthy body. However, between those that choose to surrender when they reach something too difficult, and those who try to surpass their limits, I can tell you which I see making the top one hundred and continuing with the Xaoi sect, and which will be cast aside.”
His words had the dual effect of both inspiring and angering those on the platform waiting for selection. They didn’t want to be considered cowards or failures. He likely had just inspired many of them to act recklessly and gain any amount of mental trauma. Bao bi’s lips tightened, but he had long accepted that this wasn’t a world that followed the same rules as his old world. It was a harsh world filled with violence and death. He remained silent, lost in his thoughts, although Jiang Ying Yue had noticed his pensive face, and it caused her heart to skip a beat. Seeing him with such a serious face for some reason gave her an impression of what a man should be for years to come.
“The examination is completely safe, so try your best to earn the best score. Your score will be calculated upon exited, although only the top 1000 scores will appear on the scoreboard.” He gestured to a large board that had been set up facing the spectators. “Although the spectators will not be able to observe you all during the examination, time will be a good indicator of success, unless, of course, you spend the entire time running for your life.”
His words were met by a couple of chuckles, mostly from the Xaoi disciples on the platform who has previously had to take this sort of test and were eager to see recruits similarly break themselves.
“There will be one more thing. The highest-scoring contestant will win a reward.” This news brought about excitement after receiving several bitter pieces of news, so he continued. “This pill is called the Purifying Essence Pill. Every child born in the Xaoi sect is given one of these when they start their path to becoming a cultivator. It helps remove a large number of toxins from your body. For anyone in the 1st realm, it increases their success moving to the 2nd realm by several times.”
As he described the effects of the pill, many people looked at it in awe. Among them Jiang Bo, who had just reached the 7th tier. It’d be a really good time for him to have such a pill, or so he was thinking. However, scoring first place seemed impossible for him. A side-long glance at Bao bi and he knew he definitely couldn’t be first. Bao bi, on the other, neither needed such a pill nor cared about it. He was feeling something off inside, and a small frown had formed on his face.
However, to the top winner, this was truly a chance to grow to the head of the pack. Although there were 10,000 contestants, the vast majority came from this country or nearby countries. Whether it was access to resources or cultivation methods, there wasn’t much variety. Considering they were all in the 1st realm, Dian Ai’s abnormal cultivation speed was about as abnormal as it got. How many techniques or skills could these kids truly train or cultivate in only a few years. Their combat was likely rudimentary and basic, so the idea of an oddball getting much farther than their level seemed unlikely. Thus, a pill like this could truly make the difference.
As no one spoke anymore, the speaker continued. “If you understand, then cross the bridge and touch the pagoda. Your trial will begin immediately. There is no limit to people. You’re welcome to wait a bit, but if you choose to wait too long, hehe… don’t be surprised if you’re confused for being cowardly.”
Once again, he stoked the fires of competition in this group, using both their fear of failure and the promise of reward to get the most out of them. No one there wanted to be seen as scared. This trial was far fairer than the previous trial since it was geared towards everyone’s level of cultivation. Only the strongest would survive. It was a pure test of ability. Disciples began to move across the bridge almost immediately this time, although no one raced ahead in an attempt to show off. Those lessons had already been learned.
As they neared the pagoda, their eyes widened and they slowed their movements. Although they would never admit to being afraid, the pagoda and the strange nature of this test were enough to make any mortal uneasy. Finally, one of the students reached out, and when he touched the pagoda, he disappeared with a flash. For mortals, such a scene was truly magical.
Once one entered, more and more students entered. There was flash after flash as people entered. Like before, some waited, wanting to see at least the results of the first wave before trying themselves, hoping to glean some kind of hint or idea that could help them excel in the challenge.
“Bao bi, are you coming?”
“I still need a bit, as my body isn’t 100%, but please go ahead.”
Bao bi wasn’t intimidated, but he was feeling a bit queasy, which gave his friends the impression he might be scared.
“You don’t need to worry; we can go together!” Jiang Bo declared confidently.
“No… please go without me.”
Bao bi seemed extremely insistent, so Jiang Bo didn’t know what to say. The truth was that Bao bi was going to need to ask one of the judges if he could use the restroom. He was experiencing intestinal distress. Once Jiang Bo and Jiang Ying Yue crossed the bridge and touched the pagoda, giving Bao bi one last worried look before they began their tier, he went to the side of the platform and flagged down a disciple.
“What is it?” The boy scoffed.
He had previously seen Bao bi’s cheating, and he recognized Bao bi immediately. He was from the group that believes Bao bi’s punishment had been far too light.
“Um… I need to use the restroom.”
“I have to go. It must have been that medicine I took. It’s not agreeing with my stomach.”
“Medicine? You mean the spiritual medicine?” The disciple looked incredulous, his face flashing in disbelief.
“Can I use the restroom?”
The boy quickly recovered. “A-absolutely not!”
“What’s happening here?”
Bao bi’s conversation with the disciple had brought the interest of one of the elders, who had come over out of curiosity. He had a kind expression on his face. He had been one of those who had administered the pill to Bao bi, and he had seen Bao bi take the pill without issues, giving him a good impression of the boy.
“This… boy says he has to use the restroom.”
“A restroom?” He blinked. “That is… I mean, there is nothing specifically in the rules that says someone can’t go.”
“Leaving the platform is immediate disqualification!” The boy declared.
The elder froze for a second and then gave a nod. “This is true. You’re right. Leaving the stage would be a disqualification.”
“S-seriously… that medicine is making me sick.”
The elder’s expression flashed. He was good friends with the alchemist who had made that pill, and he would have put his life that it was a top pill.
“If you would like to leave the event, then you’re welcome to do so!” He responded stiffly. “Otherwise, continue as is.”
The disciple gave a gloating look, but Bao bi barely noticed. The reality was that Bao bi was correct. His body had been given medication as a baby that kept pollutive components from entering his body. Even when he made spiritual medicine with Liao An, the standard and quality of those were all extremely high. The medicinal pill he had been handed might have been a treasure to mortals, but it was the lowest level trash pill among cultivators.
To Bao bi’s body which remained so pure of pollutants, a pill as dirty as this one immediately caused him to want to expel said pollutants. He had never been taught out to expel them naturally, so the only way he knew was through the lieu. Thus, the pill given to him with the best intentions was now causing him great distress.
However, no one knew this, even Bao bi, and he had no choice but to enter the pagoda while feeling like this. It wasn’t the ideal way to begin a test, and it left him feeling somewhat worried, but he didn’t have any choice.
As for Liao An, she didn’t see this as she had already entered the pagoda. As soon as she entered, she activated several formations, and rather than appearing in the test room, she appeared somewhere else. A man was sitting there staring at screens revealing thousands of test rooms. In them, children were fighting for their lives while he watched. He chuckled to himself giddily as he watched them, seeming to enjoy their agony.
“Jejejeje… better luck next time. Aren’t you a bit too weak? Disqualified! Hmmm… where is that one they warned me about? He hasn’t appeared yet. What was his name?”
“Are you speaking of Bao bi?” Liao An asked casually.
“Yes, that was it. I was promised fun rewards for crushing him.” He nodded. “Wait, who are you?”
“So, it was Bao bi after all.”
He had only just noticed that his private space within the artifact had been invaded by a little girl. She must have been one of the contestants, but how had she ended up in this room? The artifact that they were inside was old enough and powerful enough that it had formed a personality. This man was the manifestation of that personality. He ran the pagoda, and while he could be a bit sadistic at times, he prided himself on having never accidentally killed a contestant.
That said, he had been constructed to keep unworthy from entering the Xaoi sect, and that’s what he had done loyally for thousands of years. That said, he could communicate with those of a high enough cultivation level, and he was approached by a Xaoi sect elder who told him that a certain contestant this year was a bad apple that absolutely couldn’t join. He’d usually leave it to the test to decide who was worthy and who was no, but the man had promised him spiritual nourishment items which would help him grow as a spiritual entity, something every intelligence longed to do.
Yet, that wasn’t his concern at the moment. The concern was this foolish little girl who had appeared in his room while he was overseeing the start of the competition. He didn’t need to necessarily direct the floor of the tests. They were a part of him, and him them. He did not need to think about it any more than something needed to think to breathe. That said, he liked to put his fingers into some, giving kids he felt were too arrogant a harder time or letting a pretty girl pass. It was well known among the elders that he was biased towards pretty girls. A sect should be ripe with beautiful maidens for the plucking. This was why this exam was the 2nd exam and not the final one.
As for the girl behind her, she was a type he liked, but that cold expression on her face wasn’t cute at all.
“Little girl, fuck off!” He waved his hand, sending her to one of the rooms, but she didn’t move an inch.
“I’ve come to talk about a contestant that should be joining shortly, Bao bi.”
“What? Is he your boyfriend? I’m sorry, I don’t play favorites!” He lied with a nasty expression. “You’re pushing your luck, little lady, if you don’t leave, you can excuse me for being rude!”
As soon as he said that, he felt his throat tighten, and a pressure descends on him that felt unbelievable. He wasn’t the strongest thing in the Xaoi sect, and there was plenty he feared. The sect leader, for example, was powerful enough to make him tremble. However, this pressure he felt in that instant went beyond any of that! It was like he had been grabbed by a death god who could squish him with a thought.
“You seem to misunderstand the situation. It would be easy enough to destroy your consciousness and allow this device to continue to run on autopilot as it was intended. I’ve approached you as a kindness.”
Her words were spoken simply, but there was a power and force behind them that terrified the intelligence beyond belief. He immediately knew beyond a doubt he couldn’t resist her.
“I… understand.” He croaked. “I won’t hurt the contestant Bao bi. He will pass with flying colors!”
“That is also not my intention.” She responded. “Bao bi is a bit of a special case. I wish for his continued growth, and I do not believe the Xaoi sect is capable of providing him a sufficient challenge. That’s why I’ve changed the parameters for his test. You will provide him this test instead.”
“Anything you say!” He gasped as she finally released the pressure on him.
She waved her hand, and light flew into the intelligence’s head, immediately giving him the parameters.
“Oh, and make sure I pass somewhere in the middle of the pack. I won’t be bothering with your test. Also, I never was here. If you tell anyone of my existence.”
“I get it!” He cried, shutting his eyes for a moment.
She disappeared as quickly as she had come, and he could only slouch down, feeling exhausted. He decided to go through the parameters she had given him. After a second, his face turned white. This was just a kid, right? Not a monster? Just who was Bao bi… and why did she hate him so much?