The last person to appear out of the pagoda had unsurprisingly taken the first-place position. It was no surprise that he was in the eldest group. His name was Xie Mingyu. As his name suggested, he was truly a shining gem. Even though he was only sixteen, he had reached the upper tier of the Mortal Maturation realm. His seeming appearance in this event had given everyone something to talk about. If anyone had the material to become an inner disciple, it was him.
As for the reason he had taken so long to join the sect, it wasn’t anything so childish as a desire to dominate the first position. He was a disciple to a particularly famous cultivator who was well known to the sect but never chose to join it. In his youth, he had been good friends with the current sect leader Grand Master Xaoi, and he still held a position of honor among the sect. Even at that moment, he was watching nearby with a pleased expression as his disciple showed that being part of a big sect didn’t necessarily guarantee you’d be the best.
However, his mood dampened slightly when whispers reached his ears that there was yet another who had remained in the pagoda longer. While the length of time didn’t necessarily guarantee points, near the end of the competition, it had seemed to correlate very strongly. Furthermore, this other disciple had seemingly remained in for a significant amount of time longer. Although Xie Mingyu had scored a significant number of points over the second place, he had only been thirty seconds behind him. In comparison, it had been close to ten minutes for this person to come out.
Murmurs of discussion started to sweep across the crowds. Many theories went around. Some claimed the Xaoi Bao bi must have been one of those unfortunates who died in the process. However, their body was usually ejected when such an event occurred. Others believed that he had attempted to cheat again, and the pagoda had caught him and was delivering justice on him. They laughed as they felt it served him right. Qi Xue was one such boy. A few of those disciples how had known someone high up wanted his failure thought that an intervention had occurred that would lead to his death.
As time passed, Jiang Bo and Jiang Ying Yue grew increasingly worried. Ying Yue couldn’t help but glance over at Liao An. She was surprised to see the girl was sitting with her eyes closed, completely unworried. Did she know something that Ying Yue did not? She didn’t dare ask the other woman. She gave off such an unapproachable air that was stifling at times. Either way, Ying Yue chose to believe that she must know something, and that allowed her to calm herself.
It was as the tension was rising, and the elder judge who had been acting as the announcer was starting to wonder if he should get involved and see what was going on in the pagoda. If they had lost another mortal, it would certainly cause the number of contestants the following year to drop sharply. This could cause them to miss out on a diamond in the rough, and the sect had already been fearing a decline in the quality of their youth to the extent they had changed the age range this year to bring in a disciple.
He seemed to recall that Bao bi was also one of these younger disciples. It would be doubly embarrassing that after changing the age group, someone that wouldn’t have even been allowed to normally compete was killed as a result of the sect’s decision. It would be costly to cover up this act, and it may take a decade for the mortals to regain the lost trust in their sect.
It was just as he was about to move that a light flashed, and the boy himself appeared on the stage. He couldn’t help but let out a breath of relief. Bao bi looked around, seeing that he seemed to have become the center of attention once again. He casually touched his body, particularly where he had accumulated wounds in the last fight.
“The wounds don’t carry on.” He whispered, just a tad grateful.
If his body wasn’t harmed in there and it was all done spiritually, then how did he go to the bathroom? This was a question that would likely never go answered.
“He appeared!” Someone shouted from the audience after a long delay.
Bao bi had finally appeared from the pagoda, and that meant that he had genuinely battled against opponents in there for seemingly longer than anyone else. Those that had only known that a disciple was still stuck in the pagoda immediately recognized Bao bi from his involvement in the previous competition. They couldn’t help but hold dubious eyes as they looked down at him.
A few thought that despite the rumors that he might have cheated, perhaps he was an impressive disciple after all. Maybe, he was so amazing that the pedestal broke under his own awesomeness. Well, one could forgive some for having fanciful imaginations as they romanticized the immortals of the world. Others started to complain that he must have cheated again and that the only difference was that he didn’t win this time.
Xie Mingyu, who had been in 1st, watched this opponent extremely carefully. He didn’t understand how he could make it so long. He wasn’t just younger, but he was also a lower realm. By all accounts, Xie Mingyu could have defeated him a hundred times. This particular event took into account the level of the contestant, so he did know that Bao bi would have faced easier foes than himself, but that shouldn’t have mattered when compared to his superior experience.
Eventually, every eye turned to the board. Bao bi, who was more distracted by his thoughts about the metaphysical ramifications of spiritual bathroom use, left the pagoda and started heading to the waiting platform where the rest of the disciples sat without even glancing up at the board. Those who noticed this, while thinking his actions were arrogant, also wondered if he didn’t have the right to be arrogant at this point.
Anticipation seemed to grow as the board took far longer to calculate than expected. His points must have been massive if even the pagoda took this long to calculate. The truth was that the administrator in the pagoda had been busy consoling the Founder Xaoi, and after doing that he realized he wasn’t sure how to calculate Bao bi’s points. Every opponent had a specific value, but every single one of them had been made higher level and more difficult as a mixture of his and that strange girl’s desires. His final opponent technically had no points, and the award was supposed to be the legacy, which he had forgotten to give Bao bi.
Realizing he was out of time, he merely added up all the points he traditionally would have earned had the situation been normal. Of course, Bao bi would have been able to walk through such a difficult and perhaps double it, but after he did the math and saw they were barely enough for Bao bi to pass the even and continue to the next competition, he decided to just go with it. After all, he didn’t want his shenanigans and mistakes to be found out, and he figured Bao bi was so outstanding there would be plenty of other opportunities for him to shine.
A moment later, there was a beep as the final name was added to the list. However, the top person was not knocked out of his place. Xie Mingyu’s mentor closed his eyes, feeling slightly annoyed he had allowed himself to grow so worried. However, the second place through the tenth place were also not knocked out. People went down the list farther and farther, trying to find where Bao bi ended up.
“There he is! 999th place!” Someone finally found his name.
There was a long moment of silence. There were 1000 contestants allowed to move on after this competition, and Bao bi who had taken the longest to complete the competition had only managed to reach the 999th place. The person in 1000th place had been the first to see his name drop to 1001, spurning his chance to win this year. He felt embarrassed, but he had already been almost certain that he wouldn’t make it from the moment one more person was left in the pagoda.
He had been one of those propagating the idea that Bao bi had died in the pagoda or had been disqualified, as only these conditions would have allowed him to remain in the race. Realizing he was now standing on a stage he didn’t have the right to remain on, he turned and slinked away. Thankfully, no one noticed him, as every eye was on Bao bi who was walking across the bridge to the new platform without a care in the world.
Laughter started to break out across the audience. Stunned at first, most of the spectators had finally decided that this was hilarious. The idea that this apparent cheater had managed to scrape by with 1st place was truly funny. Rather, he must have taken on his first opponents and run around in circles avoiding the rest. In short, he must have thought lasting longer would get him attention, and had attempted to cheat his way into fame. While it worked in the sense that everyone noticed him, they also saw him as a joke.
However, the ones that weren’t laughing were the disciples overseeing it and the contestants who had gone through it. No matter what the audience thought, Bao bi still managed to reach 999 places. The mortals were quick to forget that he would have needed to beat 99 out of 100 to reach that position. Just because he had been in there longer than most, he still had to have some skill. If they also considered he was in the youngest group, which had once again lost the most contestants despite the difficulty being adjusted based on age, and that he was younger than most of the people in that group, his success was amazing.
There was also a subset among the disciples that were even more somber. Qi Xue had been in 999th place, and Bao bi had just managed to beat him out at 1000. That meant that Bao bi had managed to defeat more than him, and he was well aware of how difficult things got. However, that wasn’t what confused him. While Qi Xue had been in his fight, he had tried to do the very thing Bao bi was being accused of doing.
When he faced his first opponent, he had captured and hogtied him. He intended to collect himself and then regain his strength, taking on each enemy one at a time until he couldn’t overwhelm them anymore. This assuredly would have expanded his time and left him in tip-top condition for the more difficult fights. However, after a short period of inactivity, a new enemy appeared. Others had tried running, and it was the same situation. Once you disengaged fighting for a small amount of time, the next opponent would be sent, making such tactics useless. The longer someone delayed, the more enemies would appear.
This was something only known to those who had attempted it. This had not been announced or explained in the rules. One could call it an unspoken secret that the elders left to surprise disciples that had chosen to cheat. Thus, a small subset of disciples, and certainly the elders, were aware that this cheating Bao bi was accused of was impossible. This was also the reason that the time it took someone to complete it matched very closely with the number of points they earned. They couldn’t delay things, so as the fights grew more difficult it was completely based on their stamina and survivability. It would have been impossible for Bao bi to delay so much time, as he would have had dozens of contestants chasing him around at that point. At the very least, his evasive ability would have far outstripped his current realm.
As Bao bi reached the waiting platform, he looked around curiously as the crowds broke into laughter. He didn’t know what was so funny. Thankfully, he wasn’t aware he was the butt of the joke either. The disciples in front of him were mostly not laughing. A few of the more foolish ones chuckled or looked at him with disdain. A few others felt appreciation. However he had delayed things, it had given them all nearly fifteen minutes of rest time to fix their condition and prepare for the next event. Even those that had come out later had plenty of time to relax.
This is why Jiang Bo and Jiang Ying Yue didn’t hesitate to stand up and run over to Bao bi as he reached the platform. He was still looking around at the laughter with a slightly confused expression on his face.
“Did something happen?” He asked.
“Xaoi Bao bi, you were the last one to come out,” Jiang Bo said.
“Did something happen?” Jiang Ying Yue asked worriedly.
Bao bi thought back to the event that had just transpired, and then he shivered. “Oh, yeah… just, some stuff came up. It was nothing.”
He didn’t think that even if he explained what happened, he’d be believed.
“You managed to make it, at least.” Jiang Bo let out a breath.
“Oh! Right! I forgot about the points.” He spun around and looked at the list. “Let’s see… where am I… 999?”
His friends immediately stiffened as he turned to look at the scoreboard and then winced as he read off his place. Considering how long he had taken, he should have done better. They didn’t want their friend to fall into depression after receiving such a humiliating score.
“Bao bi… about this…” Jiang Bo reached out hesitantly.
“Heck ya! I made it!” Bao bi excitedly raised a fist. “I was worried for a second, but I’m on the list.”
“You’re not mad?” Jiang Ying Yue asked shyly.
“Huh? Why would I be? I cut, right? That’s all that matters. Hey, I got through high school barely passing, and that never held me back. Actually… given my career decision after, some might…” Bao bi shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. I never regretted it. Why start now? Oh! Ying Yue, you got 920. You did better than me.”
She lowered her head. “I-I did.”
“That’s amazing!” He put his hand on her head, and Ying Yue nearly jumped.
After a moment, she calmed down and smiled, her face turning red as a particularly pleased look appeared on her face. Jiang Bo watched this with a stony face. They were already acting affectionate in public? Jiang Bo may have accepted that Bao bi was going to end up with his sister, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t get a little jealous and annoyed when Bao bi blatantly flirted with his sister like that.
“I got 98.” Jiang Bo declared.
“Oh?” Bao bi raised an eyebrow as Jiang Bo looked back proudly. “That’s so awesome! That’s nearly the top! Good job!”
Bao bi’s other hand landed on Jiang Bo’s head, causing him to jerk too. Both the princess and princess were being patted on the head. Jiang Bo wanted to hate it, but something about receiving Bao bi’s approval made him feel nice deep down, and he found himself unable to hold onto his anger. It was Ying Yue who grew irritated at that point. She had thought Bao bi was being intimate with her, but he was acting the same way with Jiang Bo, and he was even wearing a stupid grin on his face as he liked it.
Of course, to anyone observing on the outside, didn’t it kind of look like a man praising two children? The only problem was that they were all around the same age.
“Xaoi Bao bi!” A person snapped, causing Bao bi to drop his hands and turn to the incomer.
“Who are you again?” Bao bi asked.
The boy jerked back like he had been slapped. “You dare? I’m Qi Xue! Remember it, Qi Xue!”
“Qi Xue…” Bao bi tapped his lips thoughtfully. “Oh! Your name is right under mine on the board!”
“Y-you…” Qi Xue felt a blow to his heart with just those few words.
“Good job! It was really close. I guess I pushed you out of 999? Ah… well at least you made it. I would have felt really bad if I knocked you out permanently. Oh, but then there was some kid at 1000, and they would have been knocked off the board.” Bao bi frowned and went silent.
It looked like he was contemplating this for a moment. It was regretful that such a thing could be so cutthroat. Bao bi who was an adult had ended up supplanting the dreams of some child just by being there. Such a reality didn’t sit well for him.
“Who cares about him?” Qi Xue sputtered. “You’re the one who will be my opponent for the next round! We’ll see who then is the best!”
“Oh, right, there is still one more round. Aren’t they going to knock out another 900? Someone who scores 1000 probably wouldn’t make the next round anyway.” Bao bi let out a sigh of relief. “Thanks for that. It’s probably better that he got knocked out earlier rather than almost reach the end and then know it’s helpless. I appreciate the advice.”
Jiang Bo and his sister couldn’t help but look at each other. Bao bi said some of the strangest things sometimes. Wasn’t both he and Jiang Ying Yue part of those near 1000? He was saying neither of them had a chance either.
“What advice?” Qi Xue sputtered. “I’ll have you know it was only bad luck that I was eliminated early! My techniques don’t leave room for a lot of stamina! In a single one-on-one fight, I would win easily! Don’t be so certain I won’t pass the next round!”
Bao bi smiled and gave a nod. “We’ll both do our best. I’ll see you then!”
Qi Xue gave him one last look before turning away. He was threatening the kid. Why did Bao bi look like he was giving him a pep talk? Bao bi was just too strange. The only way he could prove himself was to defeat him in the next round. The elder raised his head and silenced the crowd.
“It’s time to begin the final selection event!”