Bao bi didn’t panic when Master Li had realized he was in the second realm. He had been using an item Liao An had given him to hide his true spiritual level, but she had warned him that such an item could only keep someone from sensing his ability passively. If Bao bi displayed his power, anyone of a higher level would be able to instantly know what level he was at. When Bao bi chose to go all out, he had known that exposing himself would be one of the risks.
He had used spiritual energy, which meant that anyone would assume he was in the 2nd realm, since the 1st realm generally could not. Furthermore, he had already shown his power level in combat. Only an inexperienced child in the first realm could have any doubts about his true potential, and Master Li had dispelled those doubts.
Although Liao An’s mouth quirked slightly unhappily, she remained quiet throughout. Bao bi had to make his own choices. As much as she wanted to guide him down the ideal profound path, it was ultimately Bao bi’s journey to take, and if she interfered with his path, it could be detrimental and even stifle his development. This was something the Midnight Queen would have considered unforgivable. Tigra could only gulp as she thought about the consequences of that.
Bao bi was allowed to take a sideline and recuperate as the matches continued. Master Li quickly excused himself, and another Xaoi elder was found to watch over the youth matches. A great deal more interest appeared in the youth matches after that. Although the fighting didn’t get any more intense, there were just too many surprises for people to not want to take a look at Bao bi. He had inadvertently become noticed, and his existence lead to the second deviation from tradition made that year. For Dian Ai, they had decreased the age limit so that younger children could compete, and now for Bao bi, they had created a provincial spot in the inner disciple competition. This was enough excitement for people to talk about.
Spectators weren’t the only ones watching. Xie Mingyu’s spotlight had suddenly been taken from him. Just as he was making a name for himself, Bao bi had erupted with profound energy. It was a laughable thing compared to the level Xie Mingyu had already reached, but when it came from someone of that age, it spoke grandly to their potential. Xie Mingyu felt extreme irritation that a little kid had taken so much of his thunder. He already knew he’d be sharing some of his glory with Dian Ai, but he didn’t mind so much. In time, Dian Ai might become a proper incubator to propel Xie Mingyu to glory. On the other hand, Bao bi was merely an annoyance.
“Master Li, I am quite surprised that you involved yourself directly.” The younger man spoke as the older man returned to their private immortal stage where they had been overlooking the entire competition since the beginning.
The young man had started to get a bit bored and was planning to leave. When he saw that sudden vortex though, it was a shock to his system. The energy from it was negligible, but the location was unexpected. It was a bit like watching an ant suddenly punch a bird. Even more so, he was surprised when Master Li personally got involved.
“Is it so shocking?” Master Li asked. “The image of the Xaoi sect was in jeopardy. Someone could have gotten hurt.”
The other man waved his hand, dismissing the comment. “The people believe what we want them to believe. These mortals had absolute trust in the Xaoi sect. Even if a dozen of them died, we could just perform an investigation, give them some random reason, and grant them a couple of resources and recompense.”
Master Li didn’t respond to the other man’s comment, but he didn’t argue either. The two continued to watch the match in silence for a bit until Master Li leaned over.
“Do you think I showed too much favoritism to the boy by allocating an additional spot?”
The other man leaned back and shrugged. “Who’s to say? I think someone went to a lot of trouble to try to keep this kid from entering the Xaoi sect, and you may have just usurped their plans. They may come to think you’re conspiring against them, or that they are conspiring against you.”
“You’ve noticed it as well?”
“There were far too many abnormalities with that kid. All I can say is that he has incredible luck to be able to pass all of those challenges with someone in the Xaoi sect against him.”
“He’s from the Xaoi family line.” Master Li frowned. “Who would try to prevent him from rejoining the Xaoi sect. It should be a joyous thing when a family returns.”
The other man burst into laughter. “You’re far too optimistic. When someone falls, there is always someone else who rises in their place. When someone rises, there is always another who must inevitably fall. I have already sent out a sound transmission and found the background on this Bao bi, as well as his father Yun. I know about their family history, as well as your connection to them. I think you know as well as I do who would be interfering with that branch’s revival.”
Master Li let out a sigh. One of the difficult things about living in a sect was that it was hard to hide relationships or the past. People had long memories, and there was always someone snooping into everyone else’s business.
“Yes, I do have my theories.” Master Li shook his head.
“To answer your question though, no, I don’t think you went easy on him. If you truly wanted to protect this boy, you never would have given him a space in the finals.” The other man asked. “This is giving them the perfect opportunity to eliminate him for good. You’re all but sending him to his death.”
Master Li’s expression turned slightly hard. “Only through adversity can true talent come to the surface. Only through danger can profit be rendered. He’ll be given no benefits entering our clan. If he wishes to succeed, he’ll need to continue to depend on his luck. I’ve merely given him a chance. It will be up to him if he seizes it.”
The other man nodded thoughtfully as the pair returned to watching the match. At this point, the middle age group had already finished and the youngest group was about finished. All the numbers were tallied up, and then names were read off. The announcer read off a list of those that would be entering the Xaoi sect.
At this point, very few individuals needed that clarification, as the winners had been made obvious. Tears had already been shed and those who were able to continue on their path with the Xaoi sect had given their farewells to their families. For many of these children, the next time they’d see their families, they’d be adults, and their parents would be old.
That was the cost of leaving the mortal realm and entering the path of the immortal. You had to leave behind all earthly connections. Still, families did this every year, all with the hope that just enough familial bond remained that a cultivator would throw a bit of support to their family from time to time. That was usually enough to allow those families untold wealth, power, and prosperity for multiple generations. Those families that managed to produce multiple disciples solidified their power, while those that did not slowly decline and eventually collapsed. That was the way of things.
Bao bi had been automatically accepted into the Xaoi sect. However, Liao An had unsurprisingly made it too. Someone eventually realized that she had accidentally entered the wrong age group, but she had done just well enough that it was clear she would have passed either group, and to prevent embarrassment, the one who discovered this mistake quickly swept it under the rug and never mentioned it again.
Besides Liao An, there was also Jiang Bo and his sister Jiang Ying Yue. Jiang Bo had also made it. A surprising name that had gotten accepted was Yang Ying. Although his final match with Bao bi had led to him being unconscious, he had still won enough matches. His cultivation had survived, and although he was injured and had no chance of being in the inner disciple selection, he still was going to enter the Xaoi sect.
As these names passed, most of the spectators were waiting for the final list. Ten people would be part of the inner disciple selection. They were the cream of the crop for this year, and ultimately the most interesting part of the Xaoi disciple selection. Normally, there would be three selected from each age group. Then, the final one would be that year’s top outer disciple. The inner disciple was a coveted position where only one was offered per year, and even that wasn’t guaranteed if there was no one of sufficient skill.
Whoever became an inner disciple would be a top student. They would get the best resources and be treated with the most respect in the entire sect. It was a coveted position to be sure. Most anticipated that the outer disciple would get the position if anyone managed, but this year also had Xie Mingyu, who had shown himself to top almost every competition up until this point.
“And now, to announce those who will be involved in the inner disciple selection. Group one will include Xie Mingyu, Tian Mei, and Qiao Cheng.”
Xie Mingyu was a tall man with sharp eyebrows and a rather heroic aura about him. He had the presence of someone who would be a leader. Tian Mei was a fiery red-headed woman. Although she was still in her teens, she dressed in leather and looked rather scandalous, especially with a whip in hand. Bao bi felt that this woman might have done well in a few S&M clubs he had seen. Qiao Cheng, on the other hand, seemed almost too normal. His features were nondescript, and he could have any of a thousand disciples who were out that day.
“Those of the middle group that will continue to the final are Liang Long, Hu Tian, and Su Fan.”
Although they were younger and looked less impressive compared to the eldest group, each of the three tried to emit their presence. Liang Long held a long staff at his side, and he had narrow, sharp eyes. Hu Tian was extremely large with bulging muscles. Su Fan had a delicate beauty to her, but the way she looked at anyone else, it was like she was looking down at them.
“In the youngest group, there will be four contestants this time.” The announcer confirmed. “Dain Ai, Jiang Bo, Xaoi Bao bi, and Qi Xue.”
“Qi Xue?” Bao bi looked to his side to see Qi Xue with just as surprised a look.
It turned out Qi Xue was pretty capable. Bao bi had thought he might be exaggerating his ability, but he had won the majority of his fights. Of course, sine Bao bi had been given a special slot and Yang Ying had been knocked out of the competition, Qi Xue was closer to 5th place than he was to third, but because of various unexpected anomalies, he had managed to score just high enough to be let into the inner disciple’s competition.
Although Qi Xue liked to talk a big game, he had never actually thought he’d succeed, so he was as shocked as Bao bi that he had managed to scrape through. It was really like a dream for him. Yet, when he saw Bao bi looking at him, his shock quickly disappeared and he raised his chin.
“This is as expected.” He declared. “Now, I can finally show you who is better! We’ll see who wins in the next match!”
Bao bi had already fought Qi Xue. He didn’t think Qi Xue would have much of a chance against him. Then again, he was expected to go against the middle and elder groups. He didn’t expect any of the youngers had any chance of becoming inner disciples. Even if the stars aligned, how likely was it that a twelve-year-old could defeat a sixteen-year-old? It was an unreasonable demand. He understood now why so many disciples would risk it by waiting until they were older before joining. If someone wanted to become an inner disciple, there was no way to accomplish that at a younger.
Since there was no chance of winning, Bao bi had little interest in participating. The only thing Bao bi liked less than beating up children was to have children beat him up! Even if he could scrap by a victory or two, he had seen a little bit of the fights on the elder platform, and they were beyond his level. If he had to fight someone like Xie Mingyu in a match, he would have no chance but to lose. Bao bi hadn’t grown up as one of those kids who got bullied and beat up by the older children, and he didn’t want to start that trend now.
This was the mentality he had as he left the platform for the match challenge and headed to the last platform. There were three bridges and with them three groups of three or more. The other students were all left behind. They were no spectators themselves, expected to watch this final competition in hopes that they gain some kind of insight, or if not that, at least a general respect for what it takes to be an inner disciple. Lian An and Jiang Ying Yue were among them. Jiang Ying Yue could only look on nervously as her brother and friend went off. Liao An, on the other hand, was having a different kind of nervous moment.
“Has my disciple become so incapable that you couldn’t pass this test designed for children?” The Midnight Queen had suddenly returned and spoke.
“Ah!” Tigra nearly jumped out of Liao An’s body. “M-m-master… you’re done already?”
Midnight Queen truly was a woman who couldn’t be detected if she didn’t want to be. Tigra had no clue where her Master had gone, and Midnight returned just as swiftly. Had this happened while Tigra was acting affectionate with Bao bi, the consequences could have been catastrophic.
“Rather than participate in and win the middle group, I wanted to stay closer to Bao bi,” Tigra explained.
“You would have only been a platform away. Now, he won’t even be in the same dimension.” Midnight scoffed.
“Master, it’s not like that!” Tigra waved her hands excitedly. “This dimension possesses some things that may be of use to Bao bi.”
“I could provide him with any materials he needs.” Midnight snorted.
Tigra didn’t want to explain the obvious to her Master, but she still had to say something. “Bao bi is so beneath us, that helping him in such a blatant manner will accrue too much karmic debt. If I were to go with him to another dimension, that cost would have only been amplified. It’d be best for his future development if he can obtain the rewards on his own, or he may not survive his heavenly tribulations.”
“Tsk… heavenly tribulations.” Midnight looked annoyed. “I’ve been meaning to do away with those for some time.”
“Master… doing away with karmic law…”
“Nevermind that.” Midnight shook her head. “I’ll be returning to the library. When you next have time, teach the boy these techniques.”
She gave a wave of her hand, and several scrolls appeared next to Tigra. She gave a farewell, but Midnight was already gone before she could say anything. Tigra sighed, and then opened up one of the techniques. When she saw what was inside, her eyes almost popped out. The Midnight Queen had set off to design some techniques to help Bao bi fight. Skills were currently the thing he was lacking. However, these techniques were a little…
“Darkbringer… summon the shadows of hell to consume an enemy’s soul…” Tigra didn’t know if she should laugh or cry.
Tigra had lived in this world for a decade. She had gotten a much better sense of the laws that governed it. If any of these skills were used, they would fundamentally break this world. They were too high-tier for Bao bi and too dangerous. A cultivator who mastered even one of them could have become a dark lord that reigned over the planet for a thousand years. Tigra didn’t know what Master was thinking sometimes.
After a bit of thought, she put Liao An on standby and then started developing a few more reasonable techniques for Bao bi. While this was happening far about the planet, the groups reached the final platform where the announcer was standing there, and next to him was a young man with spikey hair. He was wearing the outfit of an outer disciple.
When the three groups arrived on the final platform, he gave a respectful bow. “I am Hao Xing. Welcome, fellow outer disciples.”
He seemed like a nice enough guy, and by greeting the rest of them as fellow outer disciples, the rush of having finally made it only just struck them. Even Xie Mingyu felled a little bit relaxed at the thought. However, he snapped out of it after a second and stepped forward.
“I don’t plan to stay an outer disciple for long!” Xie Mingyu declared.
“Oh?” Hao Xing raised an eyebrow. “If you want to become an inner disciple, you’re going to have to earn it.”
“Easy…” Xie Mingyu grinned, “I’ll take you on. I’ll take anyone on.”
“Take me on?” Hao Xing smirked. “Who says I’ve earned it?”
Xie Mingyu frowned. “What do you mean? Where is the stage? Aren’t we fighting?”
“Whoever said the final was a simple match?” Hao Xing asked.
It was the announcer who spoke this time. “If you wish to join the inner ranks of the Xaoi sect, simply being the strongest isn’t enough. It requires skill, intelligence, power, luck, and a dozen other factors too complex to simply state.”
“What is the final inner disciple selection then?” Tian Mei demanded.
“For that, you must leave this place and travel to a known battlefield.” The announcer smiled.
“What does that mean?” Qi Xue whispered to the younger kids, but he was overheard.
“A pocket dimension.” A strange smile formed on Hao Xing’s face. “We’re going to another world!”