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With the elder speaking, the crowds who had been discussing all of the exciting things that had been going on in the last few rounds quickly silenced. There were a lot of interesting people who had caught the interest of the crowd. There was the prince and princess Jiang Bo and Jiang Ying Yu. Since this was their kingdom that the selection was being held in, everyone was aware that the little prince and princess were getting involved. To many of the other kingdoms, it only meant that their opponent and competition were only going to grow more powerful and untouchable.

Jiang Bo had also performed extremely well for his age. Despite being in the 1st group, he had managed to remain in the top one hundred. The vast majority of those in the 1st group was not able to achieve this, although they still had a chance of remaining in the final round that would take into account their age. Being in the top one hundred made it extremely likely that someone would be accepted admittance, and for the 1st  group, it was all but assured.

In that respect, the little princess Jiang Ying Yue also had performed quite admirably. Despite her young age, she had managed to make it to the third match. Even if she failed to get accepted on this day, anyone would bet their wealth that she would make the selection the next year guaranteed. After all, she was only eleven and could still try again at age twelve.

However, her success was completely overshadowed by the golden child, Dian Ai. The entire age limit had been altered specifically to lure such a talent into the Xaoi sect at a younger age so that her skills could be properly nourished. She hadn’t disappointed anyone, remaining in the top ten. While someone in the oldest group might have failed to reach admittance in the third trial, the same could not be said about the top ten. These were all disciples who would join the Xaoi sect without a doubt.

There was a mountain of difference between the top one hundred and the top ten. However, even Dian Ai didn’t get all of the notice. When it came to the top three, these were the tigers of the competition. They were the ones most likely to verse the Xaoi sect’s top outer disciple for the right to become an inner disciple. That alone should speak to their achievements that they would be given this chance, even if they ultimately failed to snatch the victory.

The leader of them was a young man named Xie Mingyu. He stood clearly at the top of the pact as a disciple who had already reached the mortal maturation realm. Behind him were two other dragons, also both in the mortal maturation realm, although only mid-tier. These were a pair of siblings named Fang Xiasosi and his sister, Fang Niu.  Although the 2nd event had been weighted for age, the advantages of being in the mortal maturation realm blew away any handicaps.

Someone in the mortal maturation realm had already created their Dantian and refined it through the second realm. In the third realm, they filled it with energy, which was the equivalent of filling themselves with a power that transcends the limitation of the self.

If someone at the peak of the mortal purification realm reach the peak of the physical body, and someone of the mortal origin realm reached the peak of spiritual control, then mortal maturation was the point where someone could gain control of nature itself. Someone in the mortal maturation could create elemental attacks. This wasn’t the same as delivering a fiery punch or a cold kick, but they could fling the elements at their enemies.

It should be noted that even among the Xaoi sect disciples, few reached the mortal maturation stage before 18. It was no wonder that these sixteen-year-olds were being given the chance to become inner disciples. They were definitely the source of much of the talk. However, there was one more person who was garnering attention, but for a completely different reason. That was Bao bi himself. Few knew his real age, although he was labeled as being in the young group.

“Isn’t he an older guy who lied to get in the youngest group?”

That was the sentiment traveling around. He had been caught in extremely questionable circumstances twice. The first time, he had caused an incident on the platform to the point that the elders had to expend expensive medications to protect him despite his foolishness. In the second event, he had remained in the pagoda longer than anyone else, yet came out with a score that barely reached one thousand.

For those ignorant to the reality of the challenges, it looked like he had bumbled through and cheated up until now. The only thing they couldn’t figure out was why the elders hadn’t kicked him out yet. In their minds, they must be waiting to set an example out of him at the very end. A few of the audience made sure to keep a view of him, as they were just waiting for how he was going to finally put himself in the final competition. With that sort of atmosphere, the voice of the elder cut in and he began to explain the final event.

“As you all could probably guess by now, the final selection will be a series of one-on-one matches between the remaining contestants.” The announcing elder called out. “There are 1000 remaining contestants. Of them, 102 are from the 1st group, 372 are from the second group, and the remaining 526 belong to the oldest group. After reviewing the results, we’ve decided the results will select twenty from group one, fifty-six from group two, and twenty-four from group three.”

It was pretty clear how the calculation was made. Due to the difficulty of remaining in the top 1000 at a young age, favoritism was given to the 1st group. The second group was still weighted, while the third and oldest group had the most difficulty succeeding. At this point, the remaining disciples were of a high enough caliber that no one voiced a complaint about the unfairness of it. That didn’t stop those in the audience from muttering, especially those who happened to be there specifically to cheer on someone in the third group.

It made a lot of sense. The younger a disciple was accepted, the more potential he had. Only those who were clearly above anyone else in the third group deserved any time. Of course, ultimately the spot for the top ten and the right to compete for the inner disciple position would be dominated by the oldest group. For those who were younger though, there was a one in five chance of making it. This is why someone who ranked near a thousand might still have a chance.

Unless someone was deliberately hiding their true ability, those of the third group that ranked above a hundred in the previous result almost certainly would not be selected. However, for the 1st and the 2nd groups, the results weren’t nearly as clean and as cut.

“Now, go to the landing for your specific group.” The elder ordered, revealing three bridges, each leading to a platform. “

They were clearly labeled one, two, and three, so there was no confusion about where each person went. The group of kids immediately started filing into their respective bridges. Jiang Bo, Bao bi, and Jiang Ying Yue walked together toward the next platform. As Qi Xue went off in the direction of the 2nd group, he couldn’t help but look at Bao bi traveling the other direction and frown. This was also the first time many of the disciples truly knew the ages of their opposition. Opponents could lie or hide it, and while the audience could look up information as they waited, the disciples didn’t have that privilege.

A lot of rumors had flown around that Bao bi was in fact in the 1st stage, but it was only confirmed at that moment. Surely the elders wouldn’t allow him to walk on that stage if he didn’t have the right to be there.

Admittedly, this was only a small portion of people who were having such thoughts. The majority were more focused on the challenge to come. In particular, Bao bi’s friends were having a bit of a crisis. Once they arrived on the platform, they would no longer be friends working with each other, but opponents. This caused Jiang Bo to feel extremely complex. He knew deep down that Bao bi was an opponent he couldn’t match, but he still had a lingering home he could win the top place among his age group. That hope died, however, when he laid eyes on the cool and collected Dian Ai. There was never any doubt that she would be first.

Of course, Jiang Ying Yue also had her worries. She hadn’t scored nearly as high as her brother. She desperately wanted to join and feared that she would not get that chance. Her competition was Liao An Although she had some envy of Dian Ai, no one caused her to feel inferior quite like Liao An. Since her sudden behavioral change, this morning had only caused Jiang Ying Yue more stress until the point her stomach was in knots.

“I can make it… I can make it… I can make it…” Bao bi overheard her speaking to herself as they walked down the bridge.

He patted her shoulder, causing her nearly to jump. “You’ll do great. I know it.”

Of everyone there, Bao bi was the only one who didn’t seem particularly stressed by this final round. That was when someone jumped onto his back.

“Bao bi!” Bao bi nearly tripped and fell off the bridge at the feeling of suddenly being embraced so affectionately.

The woman who had suddenly jumped on her was none other than Liao An. Ever since the attack where his mother had been kidnapped, Liao An had become cold and distant. She had helped him out significantly with reaching the mortal origin realm, but other than that, she had remained distant and coldly aloof. He was starting to think that he had done something wrong and offended her.

That made it all the more surprising when she had spoken with a sultry, playful voice. She was acting like she hadn’t seen him in nearly a month. Without a word, she grabbed his arm and pressed herself against him in a way unbecoming of a girl her age.

“An’er?” Bao bi frowned as he looked at her, staring ahead with a smile on her face. “Are you okay?”

“I’m just in a good mood.” She responded, her eyes suddenly growing distant for a second. “I didn’t realize how much I’d miss this until it went away…”

“What was that?”

She looked back at Bao bi and shook her head. “Nothing. It’s fine. Can I just hold you for a bit? It calms me.”

Bao bi shrugged. “It’s fine.”

Even to Bao bi, her behavior was somewhat strange. She had always been a bit flirtatious, but this was the first time he would have said she was being clingy. It was nice that her personality seemed to have returned a bit, but it was still a bit off from the Liao An he knew. After the trauma she had been through, though, he was willing to do whatever she needed for her to recover from what she had to endure. To him, having her hold him was such a small act it wasn’t worth noting.

That wasn’t to say that other people nearby weren’t shocked. It was already an oddity that there would be a pair of disciples dating each other. It wasn’t completely uncommon for male and female disciples to eventually date, but that usually happened when they were older, and they certainly wouldn’t display that affection in the middle of the final trial. Those that had their eyes on Bao bi only found more to mutter and complain about as he seemed to throw his relationship with a pretty and skilled cultivator in their faces. Some had even already theorized that he had taken his hundred strokes from her, and that was the reason he had made it to the top one thousand.

For Jiang Ying Yue, the shock of her competition making such a shameless move caused her a powerful mental attack. However, this might have ended up a good thing, as Jiang Ying Yue’s resolve to not be defeated exploded out. She glared at Liao An holding Bao bi, her determination seeming to come off in waves. It was a somewhat comical scene if most people weren’t too focused on themselves at the moment to notice.

“The scoreboards will announce the order of the battles. You must defeat your opponent through any means necessary. Judges will interrupt if a contestant comes in danger. A loss can be if someone is knocked out of the ring, rendered unable to continue to fight, or withdraws. Your rank will be determined based on your losses and victories. Understand?”

Everyone nodded in agreement. This was also a kind of fairness. The 1st group had roughly 100 contestants. The first round would knock out 50 of them. The second round would knock out 25 more. That meant that if you could survive three rounds, you would be accepted as a disciple without question. And those in the third round who lost still had a chance.

“Rendered unable to fight… isn’t that a bit extreme?” Bao bi didn’t shout it out but instead muttered under his breath.

“In the world of martial arts, there is nothing too extreme.” Liao An took on a familiar teaching tone Bao bi had become used to. “Those that are accepted will only face even more dangerous situations. If they aren’t ready to fight to the death, they are only asking to die.”

“That feels like a contradiction.”

“It’s not!”

“Those that rank in the top three of each group will be allowed to travel to the final ring. You will join the top outer disciple, Chen Bao.” The elder gave his last bit of instruction. “From this, we will decide who will become an inner disciple. I warn you, Chen Bao is 16, and in the highest tier of the mortal maturation.”

This announcement did cause some people to mutter unhappily. The age limit for the competition was fifteen, so for a fifteen-year-old to have to defeat a boy not only a year older, but had also been in the sect for years benefiting from their resources, it was clear just how large of a barrier had to be breached for someone to become an inner disciple upon acceptance.

With that, no more words were said, and the boards blinked once before two names appeared. In the middle of the platform was a clear stage in a perfect circle, and that was almost certainly where the fight would commence. Bao bi didn’t recognize either of the names, but for a moment nothing happened. It wasn’t until they could see on the other platforms the contestants getting on the stage that they understood what they must do. As soon as both contestants touched, a count-down timer of ten seconds appeared. When it hit zero, the two contestants began to fight each other.

“Come on, get on with it!” A voice called out.

Everyone turned to see a Xaoi sect elder standing on a small rise overlooking the stage. It was clear that he was there as the judge. All three platforms had someone similar. Their goal was to decide when an opponent was defeated and to keep anyone from hurting themselves. His words were enough that the two boys with their names on the board walked out, nervously looking around and at each other before finally scrambling up onto the stage.

Like with the other stages, the screen began a count down. Both boys got into a fighting position, and when it hit zero, they didn’t attack. Instead, the two boys started to circle each other, both seemingly afraid of making the first attack. It seemed like they might do this all day, but then am another countdown appeared on the board.

“You better fight, if you don’t attack each other in ten seconds, then you both take a loss!” The elder laughed, seeming to enjoy tormenting the younger kids.

As the clock reached five seconds, one of the boys finally lunged forward and attacked. Their attacks were surprisingly clumsy. It was one thing fighting pretend people in the pagoda, but attacking other disciples was still a bit much for most people their age. Victory was finally obtained, not through some showy attack, but the bigger of the two used his strength to shove the other out of the rink.

His name appeared on the board, followed by a one. As soon as he scrambled off the platform, another two names appeared. The one who lost had no choice but to leave the platform. Those that lost in the first round could not have a chance to rank. It was a brutal system, but as Liao An said, when it was life and death, one couldn’t wait.

Matches continued on one after another. Those in the 1st group were the least interesting and the least violent. Most of the crowd had their eyes on the 3rd group. As the oldest and the farthest along in their cultivation, the battles were intense and filled with spiritual energy. Occasionally, the crowd would give off a ‘ooo’ or an ‘ahhh’ when someone pulled off something particularly showy. In comparison, the 1st tier seemed like a bunch of children playing at fighting, but then again, that’s because it was.

As opponent after opponent went up, the elder’s eyes drifted over to a certain disciple. Other than Jiang Bo and Dian Ai, he was the only other one who had topped one hundred in the 2nd tier. He had been specifically propositioned with the guarantee of making the top three. He just had to do one thing, and that made sure Bao bi died in an accident during the fight, something the elder would naturally fail to prevent. At that moment, Bao bi’s name appeared on the board alongside the other guy. Everything was going according to plan.

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