“I lost.” Jiang Bo looked down with defeat, his hand clenching.
Bao bi felt a little bad. He was fighting with children, but Jiang Bo in particular was someone he felt at least a little bit of responsibility for. This was his friend and they had been training together. He didn’t want Jiang Bo to lose his will to fight just because Bao bi went a little too hard on him. However, after a few moments of looking down, Jiang Bo lifted his head and smiled.
“You okay?” Bao bi asked.
“I’m going to get stronger!” He declared.
“Ah… ye-yeah.” Bao bi decided to just agree with him, although he couldn’t possibly guess what was going through his head at the moment. “We’ll become stronger together.”
He reached out and patted Jiang Bo’s back. Jiang Bo stiffened for a moment, but then he relaxed and let out a laugh, throwing his arm around Bao bi as well. The two returned to their seats together with their arms around each other like close friends. Jiang Ying Yue ran up to the pair and started fretting over the both of us, complaining that they shouldn’t fight each other so hard or one of them might end up hurt. Both boys could only laugh it off over her concern and insistence on checking if they had any wounds.
As this occurred, many of those who had been thinking negative thoughts toward one or the other suddenly felt a bit guilty. These two were showing a comradery together. Rather than being antagonistic, they worked together, and through that, they got stronger. It was a position that was enviable, to have friends you could trust and pit yourself against without feeling jealous or inadequate.
No one was seeing Bao bi as weak anymore, at least from the youngest group. The middle and top groups were still in the middle of their battles and few people spared glances that way to see the actions of the children.
The one who snapped out of the strange mood created by them was the elder and judge, who shook his head and then snapped his fingers. “Onto the next match!”
He wasn’t pleased by that display. If this had been any other match, then he might have accused Jiang Bo of throwing it to make his less capable friend look better. However, these were only the youngest group, and they wouldn’t have the talent to hoodwink him like that. Furthermore, Jiang Bo was a prince and had more to gain by being seen as superior, so if such a thing happened, it should have gone the other way.
That led the elder to one conclusion. Bao bi was a lot more capable than the elder was led to believe. He shook his head. That didn’t matter. He could still succeed with his mission. To do so, he’d just have to change things up a bit. He could still use Yang Ying to achieve his goals, he’d just have to be a bit more creative about it. Specifically, he’d need to add a little power to Yang Ying. It might even harm Yang Ying in the process, but he needed to guarantee Bao bi’s death there.
Another round of fighting went by, and several clear leaders appeared among the pack while others were utterly annihilated and forced to drop out. Jiang Ying Yue performed well enough to pass, but she finally met a match and was defeated. As if to mock her, Liao An utterly annihilated her opponent. However, soon, even she accumulated losses, making her appear unremarkable to most. If anyone was looking closely, they would have noticed how she seemingly picked and chose which fights she would throw and which ones she would succeed in, deliberately straddling the line so that she didn’t stand out. The elder didn’t notice this much. She had already lost the privilege to be in the inner disciple matches, so even if she had some ulterior motive, it didn’t matter at the moment. Furthermore, his attention was more on the best time to go after Bao bi.
As the elder presiding over these matches, he had some control of the order in which the fights occurred. The reason he hadn’t immediately put Yang Ying and Bao bi back together was to maximize his chances. He wanted to give Yang Ying the best amount of time to refine and prepare himself, but more importantly, he was waiting for the final few matches of the upper-level fights. Those would be the fights against the strongest disciples of the year. They would all be in the second or third tier, and these last few fights would be the most colorful and attention-grabbing. In short, he planned to assassinate Bao bi when everyone’s attention was on the final matches. It would be his best chance.
As the matches continued, there appeared to be three at the head of the pack. Those were Dian Ai, Yang Ying, and Jiang Bo. As expected, Dian Ai had no losses, while Jiang Bo and Yang Ying each had one loss. That one loss happened to be Bao bi. Bao bi was the dark horse of that year’s competition, particularly in the young group. There was one other that was performing well enough to draw heads too, and that was Qi Xue. He also only had one loss, but compared to the other four, he was a bit lacking.
At that point, the other four had received a bit of celebrity status, and the other disciples chose to surrender rather than fight them unless this fight determined their success in getting to the top. When they were forced to fight, the battles usually went extremely quickly and brutally. Most of these weren’t the best participants, or they wouldn’t have already been near being eliminated in the first place. Many had only gotten as far as they had with luck.
Qi Xue was the only one who didn’t show enough strength at some point to cause his rivals to hesitate. As a result, he was forced to battle every round, and as the time to recover shortened, it was starting to show in his exhaustion. This was the second part of this test. It wasn’t just a measure of skill, but also a measure of stamina, which turned out to be Qi Xue’s major weakness.
Naturally, no one was more aware of this disparity than Qi Xue himself. He was quite enraged by it. Of course, he wasn’t able to take his opponents out as soundly as the rest! He didn’t get nearly as many breaks as them. He put almost all of the blame on Bao bi though. He was the one that caused Qi Xue to falter from the start. It had thrown off his momentum, and as he grew more exhausted, his opponents only got stronger. It wasn’t fair! It naturally didn’t occur to him that Yang Ying had also lost and was able to recover from such a state. That was a given for someone of his level, but who was Bao bi? He was a nobody! As Qi Xue grumbled to himself while desperately trying to regain his breath, an extremely interesting pairing came up.
“Dian Ai versus Jiang Bo!”
Although Jiang Bo had accepted his battle against Bao bi gracefully, his face couldn’t help but grow a bit white as he heard Dian Ai’s name. At the moment, he was still at the same level as Yang Ying. However, if he surrendered, then he would be knocked down to fourth place. At that point, he wouldn’t qualify for the inner disciple challenge. He was a pragmatist and didn’t expect to win the inner disciple, but even getting a chance to participate in the final matches would bring fame and acknowledgment that would affect the rest of a person’s progress in the Xaoi sect.
Senior disciples would offer to bring you under their care. Elders would take more interest in you. As much as they might claim everything was fair, there would be clear favoritism to those that showed they had great potential. Thus, even though the youngest group had almost no chance of winning against the older groups, let alone the top outer disciple, there was still a sense of pride in all of that.
In short, Jiang Bo wasn’t willing to give up the opportunity without a fight. He didn’t even think Bao bi could beat her, so he knew he had no chance. Even though he felt it was a loose cause against Dian Ai, he still had to try. It was his only shot at the top three spots.
Still, when he started to move toward the platform, there was a collective gasp. Everyone knew that she was this year’s golden child. They had even lowered the age limit to get her in. She was in the second realm, so how could someone still in the first realm compare?
Even though Dian Ai’s victory was assured, she had walked up to the platform every time as a form of respect to her challengers. The same could not be said about Yang Ying, who snorted and glared at any potential challengers menacingly, further causing them to cower in fear and embarrassment. While Dian Ai went up to show respect, she hadn’t expected anyone after a few cautious tests to give it a try. Her eyebrow quirked up when she saw Jiang Bo get on the stage.
His cheeks turned pink slightly, but he straightened his spine and got into his trademark fighting position. Dian Ai’s lips quirked ever so slightly, and it caused her doll-like face to appear especially beautiful. The boys who were watching couldn’t help but sigh, and even the women were a bit dazed. The only two who seemed unaffected were Jiang Bo, who was too focused on the upcoming fight to notice her beauty, and Bao bi, who wasn’t so easily swayed by beauty due to his lifetime of experiences in the porn industry.
Although a weaker guy might have held back, unwilling to brutally attack the flower that was Dian Ai, Jiang Bo knew that he didn’t have the luxury of romance. He was a prince that represented the future of his country. He had to serve his country well, and that meant fighting all out. He immediately bridged the gap between Dian Ai and himself. The attack wasn’t as strong as the one he had used on Bao bi, but that was only because he hadn’t been willing to waste the time needed to focus such a strike.
The crowds watching gasped as his fist struck directly into Dian Ai. He had hit her! Such an early injury could decide the match between the pair immediately. Yet, not only did she not move, but it seemed like Jiang Bo’s fist went directly through her.
“An afterimage?” One of the observers cried out.
The image of Dian Ai disappeared. Jiang Bo didn’t make the same mistake as countless others and allowed his momentum to defeat him. As soon as he failed to connect, he did a spiral kick, landing on the opposite side of the platform. Dian Ai was still nowhere to be seen though. Jiang Bo’s eyes searched wildly around the platform, but he wasn’t the only one. It was as if she had disappeared. The spectators began to whisper among themselves, even looking to the sides of the platform. Had she fallen off and then fled in sham?
Bao bi frowned slightly as he looked at the scene. After a few moments, he closed his eyes and instead focused on his senses. He quickly found he was able to locate her profound energy. She was still on the platform. He opened his mouth but then hesitated. Should he tell Jiang Bo about it? He did want to help his friend, but would Jiang Bo even be happy if he obtained a victory through that method. He looked at Jiang Ying Yue, but her hands were clenched and her eyes were focused on her brother. Yes, doing something like that would be dishonest. They’d just have to trust in Jiang Bo.
Jiang Bo was struck at that moment from behind. He let out a cry as he was suddenly thrown forward. He landed on the opposite side of the platform. His sister gave out a cry of worry, but Jiang Bo managed to get back to his feet, spitting out some blood as he spun around. As for what struck him, there had only been the slightest flutter immediately proceeding the strike, like the disturbance of air. There was another moment of silence. Jiang Bo spun around and was struck again. He flew back, but this time he caught himself, landing on his feet and stumbling back a few steps before just managing to keep from falling from the platform.
He grabbed his stomach with a pained expression, but then he gritted his bloody teeth. Dian Ai was still completely invisible though. Bao bi felt another urge to say something, but something inside him told him to stay quiet. He had reasoned out that Dian Ai was using some kind of concealing technique. She was distorting the air around her.
Liao An had already mentioned concealment techniques to Bao bi, which was why he was able to recognize them so quickly. Although it was an extremely intimidating technique in these first years, it also had many setbacks. She couldn’t move very fast in that state, and she was also somewhat vulnerable. For someone who could feel her profound energy, she might as well be visible. At her level, the technique would only work on mortal and 1st realm profound practitioners. If she wanted any hope of keeping those profound distortions from being caught by someone over the 1st realm, she’d have to train the skill far higher.
That said, Jiang Bo was unfortunately still in the 1st realm, and he wasn’t much different than any other profound practitioners. That was to say he hadn’t spent any time learning to sense profound energy. If he had, he would have already been able to defeat this technique of hers. Even though he didn’t have this ability, Jiang Bo had stopped looking around. He steadied his breathing, and then closed his eyes. Some of the spectators thought he was giving up, while others thought he was just being an idiot.
“Ahhhh!” The shout came from Jiang Bo.
He moved quickly, and his hand seemed to interrupt something. There was a shimmer in the air, and for a moment the concealment broke, revealing the surprised face of Dian Ai. She was naïve to battle though, and her expression quickly recovered as she launched an attack. Her movements still seemed to be somewhat concealed. They had an elusive quality to them, which made them difficult to see. They seemed to be moving in one direction, only for the image to snap suddenly into a new direction. However, Jiang Bo was able to exchange blow after blow, his eyes closed the entire time.
It was the first truly noteworthy fight since the beginning of the 1st year’s one-on-one tournaments, and it was at a level that left some people wondering if these were two people from the youngest age group. A fight of this caliber might have even been observed among the oldest group, although only among the mediocre fighters.
“Brother might win this!” Jiang Ying Yue cried out excitedly.
“Tch… how boring.” Liao An muttered nearby. “She should stop wasting time and just defeat him.”
Jiang Ying Yue turned to the other woman and glared. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Do you truly think your brother could put up a fight? She is in the 2nd realm while he is in the 1st. She has access to profound power. The gap between them is the heavens and the earth. The only reason he’s lasted this long is that she’s holding back her profound power. She likely saw how Jiang Bo and Bao bi fought, and wanted to emulate some of that comradery.”
“Y-you don’t know…” Jiang Ying Yue sputtered angrily, looking over at Bao bi.
He lowered his eyes, not saying anything. He had been thinking something similar to Liao An. His eyes weren’t as good as Liao An’s, but he could tell the Dian Ai was holding back. As they went, Jiang Bo’s eyes became filled with frustration, and his attacks grew more reckless and wild.
“Ahhhh!” Jiang Bo finally made a mistake that Dian Ai couldn’t ignore without looking foolish.
She struck out, her hand moving like the wind. It struck Jiang Bo, and he flew out of the match. The small smile she had shown at the beginning of the match had been replaced with a sad, lonely look. Jiang Bo burst back up, running back to the stage. Compared to the respectful attitude he had shown Bao bi, Jiang Bo glared hatefully at Dian Ai. He almost made it to the stage before a hand fell on his shoulder.
He spun his glare only to see Bao bi looking at him. Bao bi shook his head slightly, and only then did Jiang Bo seem to get a hold of himself. Jiang Bo had always been a fiery youth. He was only thirteen, and he had everything to prove. It wasn’t surprising that a prince like him would tantrum after such a humiliating loss. Rather, his good relationship with Bao bi was an unusual thing.
Bao bi watched as Dian Ai left the stage. She hadn’t looked once at Jiang Bo after defeating them, but Bao bi had seen the confusion in her eyes when Jiang Bo’s reaction had been so much different with her than with Bao bi. She then built back up that lonely and aloof façade. She had returned to being the untouchable VIP of the tournament.
“Next! Bai bi and Yang Ying, round 2!” A dark smile formed on the elder’s face.