“Victory, Jiang Ying Yue!” The elder declared.
Jiang Ying Yue nearly collapsed in a puddle in the middle of the stage. After a few moments, she managed to shake out of it, give a bow, and then leave the stage. The contestant needed to be carried off by a disciple. Jiang Ying Yue was covered in a sheen of sweat and she was breathing hard. Her match hadn’t been particularly impressive, especially compared to the matches from the 2nd and 3rd groups, but it had been an extremely even match.
Jiang Ying Yue was younger than just about anyone else in the competition, and as a result, her cultivation was relatively low. If this competition didn’t already contain such outliers as Dian Ai and Bao bi, then the princess surely would have turned a lot more heads. Despite being quite a bit behind her brother in combat ability, her younger age put her in a position where she could be considered a budding genius in her own right.
However, that bud would only be allowed to grow to a flower if she managed to make it into the sect, and she was at a level where it could go either way based on the matchup. In this case, she could be considered lucky for not getting one of the power hitters like Yang Ying or even her brother. If she had been placed against him, Bao bi, or Dian Ai, it would have been pitiful for her. Such a match wouldn’t have occurred, as Jiang Ying Yue would have surrendered immediately. It was a bitter pill to swallow giving up without a fight, but some matches weren’t worth the energy. One just had to accept the defeat and move on.
Yet, in this case, she had been against a boy of very similar cultivation and ability to her own. However, he also had the advantage of being a boy, and he used his strength in an attempt to overpower Jiang Ying Yue. This wasn’t an uncommon tactic when boys faced girls, especially in their younger years. Very few females in the 1st group managed to make it past this stage for that very reason. Unless you had someone like Dian Ai, they would lack the knowledge necessary to overcome their physical weakness. It was good that Jiang Ying Yue was one of those who had been taught defensive techniques right alongside her brother, and was able to use her training and skill to overcome her opponent’s strength. That didn’t mean that it wasn’t close and that this battle didn’t take a lot out of her.
Although it seemed like no one had been particularly interested in her victory, there were a few eyes that looked her way in secret, particularly among the male disciples. Promising young women were of interest to these men. Young ladies were young and gullible, and their hearts were often easy to win. If a senior could trick one of his juniors into his bed, he could take his one hundred strokes from her and advance his cultivation significantly at her expense. Every maiden had to concern herself with this from the moment they started cultivating. They all lived under the continuous threat of being turned into cultivation incubators for men. Men only had to worry about being killed.
However, Jiang Ying Yue didn’t know about these prospective looks and instead returned to her seat to meditate and regain her lost stamina. This was because the next person called up was the person she had been looking at more than anyone else in this competition. She had her eyes on her even more than she was for Bao bi. That was because this was her true enemy, and the person she’d eventually have to defeat Liao An. If she wanted Bao bi’s heart, she’d need to be better than this mysterious girl.
Despite her watching Liao An, Liao An hadn’t even acknowledged her once the entire day. She had been cold and distant for the first two selections, and then suddenly in the third, she started becoming overly affectionate with Bao bi while acting both flirtatious and aloof. Jiang Ying Yue wanted to know how she was able to do that, to look both like she wanted a man’s undivided attention, but also like it didn’t matter to her whatsoever if he gave it. It was a skill that seemed extremely effective.
Liao An’s aloofness didn’t just extend to Bao bi, but also the very stage she stood on. She had an almost bored expression on her face as if this entire competition was an inconvenience to her. The person across from her wasn’t too bad either. He was at least as strong as the one Ying Yue had battled. This would be a good measure for how far she had to go to reach Liao An. Thus, she observed the scene with all of her attention. Bao bi was watching with interest too, which irked her a little bit, but it couldn’t be helped. One day, Ying Yue would claim that place in his heart! It was already decided since he claimed her ring.
“Fight! Ah… Liao An wins!” The elder had declared the fight, but it had ended by the time he looked at the stage once again, causing him to be startled.
There wasn’t some grand fight. In fact, by all appearances, Liao An hadn’t even moved. She had been standing there casually, looking at her nails, looking completely disinterested in the fight. As soon as the elder called the start of the match, she had only flicked a finger distastefully. As for her opponent, he had suddenly lost his balance, stumbled back a few steps, and then slipped out of the match. Compared to Yang Ying’s slip earlier, this one was far more humiliating.
The elder didn’t notice anything strange other than the oddity of the child tripping on his own feet. The same could be said about any disciples who happened to be watching. These were the youngest of the young, so they supposed such a thing could be expected from time to time. Unlike with Bao bi, where he had seen Bao bi’s actions and at least saw the profoundness of them, Liao An appeared like she hadn’t done a thing. The match was over before it even began.
A few people jeered at the boy who had stumbled over his own feet, but the majority ignored the situation and didn’t seem to care about it one way or another. Just like that, Liao An had passed through her first-round without any fanfare. Jiang Ying Yue gnashed her teeth, unhappy that she still hadn’t gleaned any hints into her rival’s abilities, but the next round was arriving shortly.
A few more rounds occurred, and then family names started to appear for their second round. The order they were called didn’t necessarily have any connection to how they were called in the first round. Someone who went near the end of the first round could go first on the second round, which was part of the reason it was so important to regain your strength after your match. It was the luck of the draw whether someone would have to start against their next opponent having only had a few moments of rest. Furthermore, if they dealt with a long strenuous battle in their previous match and were thus exhausted, such a thing was also ignored.
Qi Xue was one of those who had gone near the end of the first round. He had defeated his opponent swiftly, but he had used far too much energy to do it. These were the thoughts of the elder who had watched the fight. Stamina management was his greatest weakness, and he quickly began meditating to recover before the next match, praying he wasn’t one of the first.
“Bao bi and Qi Xue!”
Bao bi was called up again, but it wasn’t Qi Xue’s day. He ended up being one of the first matches of the second round. However, he didn’t feel particularly frustrated when he realized who was going to be fighting against. He was against Bao bi, the boy who had cheated and lucked his way through the competition up until this point. Qi Xue didn’t even need to worry about this fight because the winner was an inevitability. He jumped up onto the stage with a thud, a malevolent grin forming on his face.
As Bao bi went to step on the stage, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked over in surprise to see the elder had left his podium. The man leaned close and whispered a few words to Bao bi. This was the second time the elder referee of the first group had seemingly advised one of the younglings, and it filled the hearts of the mortals watching with joy that the Xaoi sect was so graceful and caring toward the youth. A few pessimists who saw who it was he was whispering to the thought that rather than encouragement, it was a reprimand telling him to not cheat.
In reality, the elder had whispered. “It is best if you show restraint. Youthful pride is a dangerous thing.”
Bao bi had been a bit surprised by the elder’s words, but then he had quickly thanked him and bowed respectfully before finishing his climb onto the stage. Bao bi didn’t expect the elder to be so observant, but his words filled Bao bi with warmth as well. The elder saw Bao bi’s skill and didn’t want him bullying the others and ruining them. He had voiced out the exact concerns Bao bi had, and it gave him relief that the elder understood.
As usual, Bao bi’s interpretation of events was completely off. The elder had seen how powerful QI Xue was and was hoping to use him to hurt or injure Bao bi. While his words sounded like encouragement, he told Bao bi told to hold back. He had attempted to fuel Bao bi’s pride, hoping to make him act arrogantly and overconfident. Feeling like he had the approval of an elder and could come to no harm, he wouldn’t take this upcoming battle as seriously, thus exponentially increasing his chances of getting harmed.
The truth was that the elder didn’t deserve any of the warmth or respect Bao bi felt. This was the level of conniving that was honed by years of having to be cutthroat to survive. If a few sentences could increase Bao bi’s chances of losing and the elder fulfilling his mission, then he would take it.
Qi Xue let out a roar and then sent a powerful attack slamming against Bao bi. Qi Xue did not have a dantian, but somehow, as his fist flew through the air, spiritual energy seemed to cling to it, amplifying his attack by several times. This was ultimately the trick to his incredible strength. While he couldn’t control spiritual energy, his techniques had a natural tendency to draw spiritual energy to them, reinforcing his attacks and making them far more powerful than they had a right to be. These techniques were extremely exhausting, but they were also extremely powerful.
Bao bi met that attack right on, and people gasped as met. There was a flash of spiritual energy, and both parties were pushed back. They both were knocked back the same distance. Bao bi’s defense and Qi Xue’s attack were even! This single exchange caught many eyes since it was at a level more expected of the 2nd group than the 1st.
Qi Xue attacked again, sending out a powerful spin kick. Once again, spiritual energy flooded into it. The elder grinned in delight as Bao bi met the attack again. This time, he was pushed back, by Qi Xue lost no ground. For perhaps the first time since the selection had begun, Liao An was focused on Bao bi. She had a small frown on her face. Jiang Bo and Jiang Ying Yue were giving the fight their full attention, but she had spared a glance at Liao An, and seeing her frown, assumed that this must be bad. Had Bao bi met his match?
Had the elder not said anything, the fight would have already been over. Bao bi would have quickly dispatched his opponent as quickly as possible. Quick was safe. A child could get hurt in a prolonged fight, and the longer it lasted the more dangerous it could be, so typically ending it as quickly as possible was a good policy. However, the elder’s words about pride had affected Bao bi. He didn’t want to ruin an upcoming cultivator by defeating him too quickly.
Thus, he did exactly what the elder had suggested. He was showing restraint. In particular, he was allowing the fight to be a bit more dynamic. After hearing the crowd talking about them being evenly matched, he thought it’d be good for this young kid’s ego if he was ahead for a bit. Thus, Bao bi pulled on an ability he had practiced many times against Jiang Bo. He pulled all of his punches and fought evenly.
“When you push off with your right foot, you’re catching the weight with your left.” Bao bi suddenly spoke up. “That’s all wasted energy. You’d be better off launching that attack with your left foot instead.”
The panting Qi Xue blinked, and Bao bi blushed. Usually, he’d help Jiang Bo with advice as they spared like that. He had forgotten for a moment he was in a fight and had inadvertently started assessing Qi Xue’s combat. The advice had been quite good, and the elder found himself nodding in agreement until he stopped himself.
Bao bi’s words had thrown most of the spectators through a loop. They had no clue what was going on. Was Bao bi struggling to fight, or was he messing around? Jiang Bo, who recognized Bao bi’s actions all too well as similar to when they were sparring couldn’t help but scratch his cheek, feeling a bit awkward.
Although the fight had only been going on for about a minute, this had already been the longest and more dynamic battle coming from the 1st group. Bao bi considered that, and decided with the next attack, he would defeat Qi Xue. Although he was willing to let the match continue a bit for Qi Xue’s development, he wasn’t going to throw away his victory for it. He prepared for the final attack, but a few moments later, Qi Xue fell to his knees.
“Damn! I surrender.” His face was extremely ugly and he shot Bao bi a hateful look. “I had you on the run! If my stamina could hold out a little longer, if I hadn’t gone so late in the last round, you’d be toast!”
“Mm!” Bao bi nodded. “Practice your stamina, and next time, you’ll get me.”
Qi Xue’s mouth opened and then closed again. He wasn’t sure how to take those words at all. To some, it sounded like a mocking taunt, but others seemed to feel sincerity and grace in those words as if Bao bi truly was encouraging his opponent to strive to be better. There was a distance saying in the cultivation world. The strong make themselves stronger, but truly strong make their enemy’s stronger. Only when an opponent brings out their best can a cultivator bring out theirs.
Although it was hard to say how close to defeat Bao bi was, most took Qi Xue’s words at face value, especially among the mortals. Not knowing any better, it seemed exactly as he claimed. Only the more observant could see that Bao bi wasn’t remotely out of breath or even sweaty. Not once during the entire battle did he seem flustered or panicked. To these guys, Bao bi was still an unknown, his true strength completely hidden.
A strong glare from the elder gave Qi Xue enough strength to scramble to his feet and leave the stage. He immediately began to prepare for the next round. The one advantage of going earlier in the round meant that he had that much longer to regain his lost stamina and be ready for round three.
Bao bi, who hadn’t been tired from the beginning, sat down and watched the next round of attacks casually. Dian Ai was called, but her opponent immediately surrendered without even attempting to fight her. Yang Ying was called up next, and his opponent chose to fight him. It was exactly because of his previous mishap with Bao bi that such a lowly opponent felt he had a chance. He was much lower than Yang Ying, but after seeing him make a fuel out of himself, he was hoping that lightning might strike twice.
Although the boy had never said anything of this sort, it was certainly what Yang Ying thought over being challenged rather than an immediate surrender like Dian Ai got. This infuriated him, and when the match began, he descended on the boy ruthlessly. His attack was only reserved in the sense that it wouldn’t cause him to trip and fall out of bounds again, but he used all of his strength and quickly broke through every defense.
Blood erupted from the other boy as he was thrown into the sky. Yang Ying wasn’t done there though. He wanted to vindicate all of the shame from the first match on this poor disciple, so he had made sure not to throw him out of bounds. As the boy came down, he brought up his fist, aiming for a strike that would hit the spine. Those that had good enough eyes to follow the fight gasped as he aimed his debilitating stroke, but just before it landed, the nearly unconscious disciple was pulled away. The elder had snatched him out of the air and spared him the brutal finisher.
“Victory for Yang Ying.” He snorted, shooting Yang Ying a cautious look.
If the fool tried to incapacitate everyone, then it would make it that much harder to make Bao bi’s demise look like an accident! Yang Ying at least had the decency to lower his eyes under the elder’s gaze. His look had gained the ire of another though. Bao bi was extremely pissed. He had shown this kid so much mercy, but he would take that and try to disable another. It felt like he had spit in Bao bi’s face. If he faced the boy again, he was going to teach him a lesson.
“Next match! Jiang Ying Yue versus Liao An!”