Bao bi had never realized that this disciple selection would be so challenging for him. It wasn’t the difficulty setting, although he did find himself shocked time and time again that the Xaoi sect put such a heavy demand on children so young. No, the real challenge came in coming against other children that were his age. Bao bi had the mind of an adult. He had grown a full life. It was true that kids that grew up in this world seemed to mature faster than their own, but it still felt a bit like bullying using his age and maturity to surpass them.
Then again, he had to get into the Xaoi sect. It was the only way he would have the resources and the position necessary to save his mother. Despite everything that had happened, he could never forget why he was there. If he had to stomp on the feet of a few children to save her, then it was something that had to happen. At the very least he could rest easier knowing that these were all younger kids. They would have their shots again at the selection for a few more years. They could afford to lose.
Bao bi remained focused as he watched fight after fight. It was sometimes cringe watching two children try to punch and kick each other, especially when it was clear they had an aversion to pain. Bao bi found that there was very little he could gain from these disciples. He had already advanced to a stage where watching such fights didn’t benefit him at all. He was much more interested in the battles from the third group, but given their positioning, he couldn’t get a good look over there, and only heard the occasional flash of spiritual power or the excited comments from the crowd.
He could only sigh and wait for his turn, which came rather sooner than he had initially expected. His name came up, and right across from it came a person he didn’t recognize named Yang Ying. Bao bi said a little prayer for the poor student who had to verse him, and headed for the platform, but was stopped by Jiang Bo, who grabbed his arm suddenly.
“Bao bi… this is bad! Yang Ying scored in the top 100! Other than me and Dian Ai, he was the only one able to do so. He’s likely very strong.”
“Oh?” Bao bi scratched his head. “Aren’t I able to beat you pretty easily though?”
“Geh!” Jiang Bo gave a sour expression as he had just been punched in the gut.
“Ah… I didn’t mean it that way…” Bao bi had spoken too hastily and hurt Jiang Bo’s feelings, to which he was immediately regretful.
“No, you’re right. I forget sometimes how skilled you are fighting. I’m still not sure how you got such a low score on the last fight.”
“Ah… mistakes were made.” Bao bi gave a nonspecific answer while laughing and scratching his cheek.
Jiang Bo nodded. “True… but when you reach the top 100, each additional place can be as difficult as a mountain. I was 98, but Yang Ying scored in the top 30. I’m afraid the difference between Yang Ying and myself isn’t even comparable. In a fight, I would be the one to lose.”
“You need to take this fight seriously!” Jiang Ying Yue cried out. “You can’t let yourself get hurt.”
Bao bi thought about it for a second and then smiled. “Thanks for telling me. I’ll watch out for myself.”
Bao bi reached out and patted Jiang Ying Yue’s head, causing her to blush, before turning and heading to the stage where the administrator was becoming impatient. The Jiang siblings looked at each other, not quite convinced that Bao bi was truly taking this fight seriously. They knew he had some skill, but 30th place was nothing to scoff at. 97 of those one hundred disciples ranged from one to three years farther along in their age and cultivation. For someone so young to make 30th, Yang Ying likely would have been the talk of the selection, if it hadn’t of course been for Dian Ai.
She had scored 2nd and was even younger than the original selection age. No matter what happened, she had already proven that the Xaoi sect was wise in changing the rules this year to allow her in. The quicker they got her under their wing, the greater she would grow, and the more benefit she would be for them.
As for Bao bi, he wasn’t intimidated by places at all. He had trained against Liao An, and nothing he had seen so far came even close to her. He was starting to suspect that Liao An might be a rare talent. After all, he was able to beat Jiang Bo, who was at level 98, but he was unable to beat Liao An. That meant that if the rankings were accurate, Liao An would have been higher than 98. Bao Bi himself had barely managed to remain on the list at all at 999, yet he thought he had done pretty well. He even encountered that elder guy. The only conclusion he could make was that the pagoda’s ranking was bullshit.
If the pagoda’s sentient administrator had heard Bao bi’s sentiment, he surely would have cursed his name and cried tears of blood. The pagoda was very accurate in properly placing people. It was exceptionally rare that an outlier would do better in the third selection compared to the score they placed in the 2nd. As far as many were concerned, two steps were all that was needed. The only reason this third step existed is that the Xaoi sect had found many disciples would not accept their ranking unless they were physically defeated by their peers. This pseudo-tournament was more about convincing the disciples that had already lost to accept their defeat, rather than finding any diamonds that slipped through the cracks.
It was probably good that they had this rule though, as Bao bi wouldn’t have made it through the selection without. He had scored 999, and no one saw him as a viable threat. His entire progress through the selection had been mildly laughable. He had seemingly cheated to get through the first one, and some were still convinced he cheated in the second. However, by the third tier of the selection, there was just no way he could cheat anymore. The hand full in the crowds who were still taking notice of him rather than the more interesting fights of the third group sneered as they watched him go up against such a formidable opponent. Finally, he’d be put down in his proper place and kicked out of this selection with the other failures where he belonged.
There was one other person who took particular notice when Bao bi went up. That was none other than Qi Xue. He hadn’t been deceptive when he said that the last competition wasn’t his forte. He was good at explosive strength, but when it came to stamina, he was lacking. That was why he had scored so low. He was confident he’d be higher up on the list, maybe even breaking the top 100, if it was one on one. He had planned to make his debut by finally putting Bao bi in his place.
However, Bao bi was being put up against Yang Ying. Even Qi Xue’s explosive strength didn’t give him enough confidence to defeat someone in the top 30s. He could only watch bitterly as his rival was put against such a freak character. It was in Bao bi’s bad luck that his end would come here. Of course, even if he lost one round, there was still a chance he’d move on and Qi Xue could fight him, but by then he would have already had a loss and it would be less meaningful. Qi Xue also wanted to cause Bao bi injury, so that he wouldn’t be able to continue, but with someone as skilled as Yang Ying, it would be odder if an injury didn’t occur.
That was the sentiment of the majority watching. They all believed that when Bao bi fought Yang Ying, Bao bi would likely be knocked out completely. Yang Ying was powerful enough to reach the top 30, but that score had been obtained by killing mock opponents. For someone in their age group, holding back wasn’t an option. Bao bi didn’t just have a serious chance of being injured, but he could die. This was just the regrettable inexperience of youth, especially when a very strong disciple went against a very weak one.
Of course, the administrating elder watching over the fight should intervene before death occurred. If he failed to do so, he would not only lose face for the Xaoi sect but he would be punished severely too. This meant that if he did fail, no one would question it. After all, what elder would knowingly embarrass the Xaoi sect and willingly be severely punished? The answer had been promised great rewards exceeding any punishment they might receive.
That’s why the plan was all too perfect. The powerful Ying Yang who didn’t know his strength didn’t a debilitating blow. The inattentive elder failed to stop it in time, and Bao bi was severely injured and or killed. At best, he would be out of the selection. Ying Yang would be praised and given special considerations, and the elder, after receiving a slap on the wrist, would be given his reward from those higher up in the Xaoi sect. It was a devious plan where everyone won except for Bao bi.
Liao An was aware of the plan. How could Midnight and Tigra not be seeing everything that happened in the competition? They saw the subtle looks and the little exchanges. Midnight had reasoned it all out before the first event even began. However, in her mind, these sorts of challenges needed to be overcome by Bao bi himself. She would step in if it was life or death, but otherwise, this was his chance to grow. Tigra might have held the same opinion once, but that opinion had changed drastically since she had spent so much time locked as Liao An.
The only reason she didn’t interfere with extreme prejudice didn’t have anything to do with giving them a challenge. Instead, she looked upon this entire conspiracy with disdain. She had assessed Yang Ying’s power, and she found it almost insulting that they would try to take out her disciple with such a cheap trick. She looked forward to seeing Bao bi crush their plans on his own. Thus, she barely even opened her eyes as Bao bi finally stepped onto the platform.
Yang Ying had been surprised when he was taken aside by an elder shortly after completing the last match. He was to be ruthless with Bao bi. He didn’t know Bao bi particularly and had nothing against him, although he had seen Bao bi’s various suspicious activities from the first two challenges. In his mind, Bao bi was someone that should have already been kicked out but had managed to limp along up until this point. Putting him down was only his fate. Then again, anything the Xaoi sect wanted could be considered the same as fate. That’s how powerful they were in the young and impressionable mind of an incoming disciple.
The fact that Yang Ying had been promised additional spiritual items and aid once he was accepted into the sect only spurred him along. He would put everything he had into a rapid and violent attack. Yang Ying had done his best to hide it, but he had just reached half-step into the second realm. He was only a 1st realm, 9th tier when he had been tested prior, but he had worked hard and saved up a special medicine which brought him to the cusp of becoming the 2nd realm. A single small push, such as the aforementioned extra spiritual medicine promised to him, and he could officially become the 2nd realm as an entering outer disciple. Such an incredible accomplishment would put him alongside Dian Ai, although he was two years older.
He could channel spiritual energy, something that none of the others in his age group could manage, except maybe Dian Ai, who had already stepped into the Mortal Origin realm. He still fancied Dian Ai something horrible, and it would be wonderful to stand by her side, even for a little while. In his darkest fantasies, he even imagined the Xiao sect agreeing to let him have her, and then expanding his cultivation greatly by using her as his cultivation incubator. Of course, he wouldn’t throw her away after. He’d marry her, and she’d become his 1st wife. That was an important position, especially when the next wife came. She would appreciate being his first.
However, that was all the fancy of a young child, and he took that fantasy and used it to spur him to do his absolute best. As soon as Ying Yang was facing Bao bi, he began to put all of his power into one incredible and violent strike. He infused that strike with spiritual energy, which he intended to use to decimate Bao bi. If Bao bi couldn’t block it, such an attack would be brutal. None of the audience watching this, and none of the contestants on the platform could see this through. Spiritual energy usually wasn’t trained until the 2nd realm, and so few 1st ream cultivators could see such an attack.
The exceptions were Liao An, Bao bi, and of course, the elder who was administrating the fight. As he saw the attack building, a small and malicious grin formed on his face. This was going perfectly. This would be the easiest mission he had ever completed. He didn’t know why his superiors wanted Bao bi disabled or killed by any means necessary, but he also didn’t care when it came to the cultivation scroll they had promised him.
He had been in a long-running bottleneck and had been unable to progress into the Mortal Condensation realm, and he hoped that these scrolls would give him what he needed to make progress. What was the life of one puny upstart cultivator in exchange for that? Any punishment he received would be extremely likely. Perhaps a month of reflection in his immortal cave, which would give him the perfect time needed to overlook the scroll. It was all too perfect.
Dian Ai also looked up, a bit surprised as she felt something strange coming off of Yang Ying. She could feel something was off with the punch Yang Ying was preparing, but she lacked the experience to truly understand what it meant. Using spiritual energy wasn’t just a matter of cultivation level, but practice. Traditionally, a student couldn’t even access spiritual energy until they reached the second realm. That meant that Dian Ai had almost no experience using it. She only got a sense of danger, but she saw no gain in warning Bao bi, so she kept her mouth shut.
Then again, Bao bi didn’t need a warning. There were virtually known like Bao bi, who had started playing with spiritual energy from almost the second he started cultivating. He had even developed in a strange way where he could store spiritual energy in every cell of his body, causing him to not only become extremely good at manipulating it but extremely sensitive to it. The way Liao An used spiritual energy might have been like a fine blade, slicing through the world. The way Yang Ying used it was like a cudgel, blatant and obvious. Bao bi felt no danger from it because it wasn’t a danger to him. However, his lack of reaction only emboldened Yang Ying and excited the elder.
Had Yang Ying’s attack been against anyone else present, even Dian Ai, it might have been devastating. Dian Ai would have at least recognized the danger and reacted to it, but anyone else would have just thought it was a normal punch. After they intercepted it, only then would they realize how wrong they were. By then, it would be too late, and they would be crippled or dead at best.
“Bao bi versus Yang Ying, go!” The elder declared.
Yang Ying leaped forward. In most of the previous matches, there had been a slight delay as the two sides tried to get a feel for each other and tried to avoid getting hurt. Yang Ying was far more ruthless and moved the second the bell was rung. In a single dash, he threw out his powerful strike filled with spiritual energy and aimed at Bao bi’s chest. Such a hit could have easily stopped Bao bi’s heart. In comparison, Bao bi was completely relaxed, not even looking like he was prepared for the attack in the slightest. When the distance was covered and Yang Ying’s strike was near to Bao bi’s chest, a look of victory appeared on his face, and the elder was buying his time to lunge forward, but still look too late to save him.
That’s when Bao bi moved. His movement was extremely slight, tilting his chest to the side. However, Yang Ying’s attack was expected to connect, and suddenly the body was no longer there. He also had put everything into it, and now he couldn’t stop. The momentum of his attack carried him forward, where his legs struck Bao bi’s knee. Bao bi casual reached out and touched Yang Ying’s fist and then pulled back as Yang Ying went flying out of the rink. The match was over.
The entire fight had happened so quickly that the spectators couldn’t even process what had just happened. It looked like Yang Ying had run at Bao bi with an extremely powerful attack, and Bao bi had tried to dodge, sending the other boy flying out of bounds in a humiliating fashion. Yang Ying was extremely furious, and he jumped back up and attempted to leap back onto the platform. At this point, the elder had to move. If he didn’t interrupt this, there would be no excuse. He put a hand on the boy’s shoulders, causing the anger to melt into fear as he looked up at the elder.
“You’re done. It’s over.” The elder declared.
To Yang Ying, that word had several horrible meanings.
The elder had meant anything by it though because his mind was far too focused on what he had just observed. No one else watching the match had seen what he had seen. It may have looked like an overexuberant Yang Ying raced at Bao bi and accidentally tripped over Bao bi, but the elder knew better. He had seen the strange movement Bao bi had used. It was simple, yet it felt strangely unavoidable. There was something else far more shocking though. When Bao bi had touched Yang Ying’s hand, he had broken the spiritual energy he had built up and then dispersed it.
Normally, a missed strike like that would have caused a rebound that hurt the user. Yang Ying should have experienced a brutal backlash, one that might have even kept him from finishing the selection. Yet, in a single touch in passing, Bao bi had broken that energy and spared him an even more humiliating defeat. Such a move was extremely complex, and even a third realm cultivator might struggle to do something like that, and not in the middle of a dual with someone at the same cultivation level.
For the first time, the elder was starting to sweat. Did he bite off a mission bigger than he could chew? Just who the heck was this Bao bi?