Once they made it back to the surface, the ground beneath them started to shake. The wild beasts, insects, and birds escaped as fast as they could. Bing couldn't keep his balance and fell to the ground while Jing and Li Li stood completely fine as the violent shaking had no effect on them. The entrance to the ruins they just came from started to close up.
"Is it an earthquake!?" Bing asked.
'I thought those ruins were part of the test, but maybe they were something else...' Jing suspected.
The entrance fully closed up and soon the shaking stopped. Jing started blindly walking through the jungle. Bing hurriedly got up and followed after her.
"What just happened?" He asked.
"How should I know?" She answered.
"Oh. Where are we going now?"
"I accomplished my current goals. All that's left is to wait until this portion of the test is over." Jing told him.
"So, no more fighting to the death with others...?" Bing asked hesitantly.
"Not unless I tell you to." Jing replied.
Bing wiped his forehead full of imaginary sweat.
"Thank goodness..." He muttered.
The trio enjoyed a peaceful walk through the jungle since most of the wild creatures fled earlier. Jing was satisfied with her haul so far. She can use a majority of them to build a stable and firm foundation once she gets accepted into the sect. Jing doesn't currently know what the situation is like at the Golden Serpent Sect but she plans to rise up and take over it for herself or stay behind the scenes and rule it. But if she was being honest, she'd rather stay in the background for a while until the time was needed for her to show herself.
She doesn't mind gaining attention but it wouldn't be as fun and interesting to her. Jing just feels like it isn't in herself to show off her abilities and let everyone know how capable and dangerous she is. Bing is an exception because he's her slave. The only people she plans to show her true self to are those she can control and those she can trust.
So, until the perfect situation comes where her façade is no longer needed, she will become no more than just someone who fits in the background. The perfect normal. The average schmuck. Ruling behind the scenes, getting rid of those who will choose to stand in her way, and building her own faction inside the sect.
Jing's plans for the future were suddenly interrupted by a loud thunderous voice in the sky.
"THE FIRST PORTION OF THE TEST IS OVER! THERE IS NOW AN ACCEPTABLE NUMBER OF PEOPLE FOR THE SECOND PORTION! PREPARE YOURSELVES!" A loud boisterous voice informed.
Jing, Bing, and Li Li watched as their bodies started to vanish slowly.
"My hand!" Bing shouted in fright as his left hand was completely gone.
Jing looked down and saw her legs vanishing in a white light. She could still feel the connection to her legs though, so she didn't freak out as much as Bing was. Li Li pruned his feathers as if the situation didn't faze him in the slightest.
Soon the three of them vanished from the jungle and reappeared in a whole new area. Jing confirmed her body was still in one piece before noticing her new surroundings. Around them were hundreds of other cultivators, similarly confused or still in survival mode. Besides the cultivators though, they seemed to be standing inside a large arena ring. Around them were audience stands and in front of them were stairs ascending to the sky. The stairs had an ethereal look to them. Light blue, solid but seemingly not, and transparent.
"You bastard dog! I'll kill you for killing my cousin!"
"Don't be so upset trash! I'll send you off with your little cousin soon!"
"Oi! Is this waste messing with a member of the Shang clan!?"
"Rip his intestines out of his skull!"
Situations like this happened all around and it seemed like this portion of the test was going to quickly turn into a giant battle. Jing gripped her whip's handle inside her outfit in preparation and Bing nervously stood in front of Jing with his shield at the ready.
"CALM YOURSELVES! There will not be a single blood split right now or I'll fail you this instant!" The same thunderous voice from before threatened.
Jing looked over stands and saw the elders and cultivators from the Golden Serpent Sect sitting in the stands watching them. The one shouting at them was the buff elder she saw before she entered the test. After his threat, all the cultivators with grievances shut up and silently swore to deal with those that crossed them later.
"Good. It seems you all aren't all a bunch of fools. You can worry about your grudges later but for now listen up. You all will climb those stairs till you aren't able to move up anymore. Those who can make it in the top 300 will move on to the next portion. Those who can't will fail here. Any questions?" He asked.
"What happens if there are multiple people on one step?" A random cultivator asked.
"You shove them off till you're the last one on that step." He answered with a grin.
He waited a few more seconds to see if there were any more questions.
"Well BEGIN!" He shouted.
'It's time to put on the show.' Jing secretly smiled to herself as the event began.
A mass majority of cultivators started to rush up the stairs. They shoved, punched, and kicked anyone who was in their way. They're getting to the top of these steps and won't let anyone stop them. The elder didn't say there was a prize for who made it to the highest step, but he didn't say there wasn't. There had to be a reason why only 300 people were passing this part when there were over thousands of cultivators here.
Bing was one of the cultivators who were rushing up the stairs. He had a pathetic desperate expression as he ran like a boar through the crowd. Numerous cultivators were knocked aside or up in the air from his piggy charge. He was going to show his worth no matter what. Jing couldn't be the only one who knew that this wasn't a race. She looked around and saw a small number of people taking their time as they walked towards the steps.
'So, there are some people who realize this isn't a race.' Jing remarked.
But Jing wasn't one of those people right now. She was an extra! A normal! She pushed up her glasses and ran at the same pace as everyone else was towards the stairs. She put on the same desperation in her actions and expression as everyone else was. But a bit more pathetic than theirs. Everyone else had desperation, excited, and fighting spirit in their actions. She had meekness, desperation, and fright in hers. She decided to act like a meek and weak girl on the surface.
Jing was in the lower part of the sea of cultivators while Bing was near the front surprisingly. Jing could still hear his piggy squeals from where she was and she was being knocked all over the place. That sky-ranked body technique made Bing much stronger than a regular 2nd level Qi Gatherer. Jing was starting to think of how she could use Bing in the most optimal way once they made it into the sect but that thought had to wait as she finally understood what was so special about these steps. Jing took her first step and felt a tiny breeze on her body.
She looked backwards and noticed that someone else that took the same step stopped directly in their tracks. She saw them urging every ounce of power in their body to move forward, veins popping, muscles straining, and yelling but no matter what they did they couldn't move past that first step.
"Heh.. Trash couldn't even get past this level of qi?" She heard one of the cultivators say as he passed her.
'Qi? This doesn't feel like qi... That old ghost from before was much stronger than this. That qi felt like going against a natural disaster.' Jing thought to herself before returning back and rushing up the stairs.
The force of qi didn't increase much as she climbed the stairs but she could see the effect it had on others. They tried to force their bodies to go past its limits, cry and beg to let them to make it a few more steps up, or just accept the fact that they are going to fail here and walk down the steps.
It wouldn't be until Jing made it to her 500th step that she began to feel something more than just a tiny breeze. Now she felt something a little bit more than just a breeze, but it wasn't enough to make her expend more energy than usual or anything. If anything, it felt like a light cloth was over her body and trying to prevent her from moving forward. The view to the top was still not clear enough though. About 400 people were still in front of her, so she had 100 more people to pass before she could stop. 300th place would be a fantastic stopping place for her. She does plan on looking weak and untalented. What better place would a person like her be if not completely last?
Jing inwardly smiled but didn't forget to act as if she was struggling against the force of qi acting on her. Once she passed #310, she even started crawling up the steps to add some authenticity and character to her actions! She was determined to make it to at least 300th place and if she has to do it on her hands and knees she will! Despite being a frightful, weak, and cowardly girl, she still has determination when it counts! It's all part of the act.
Li Li was riding on her back, confused entirely. She may have forgotten to let the little man know what she was doing before she started this plan because he was inspecting her body all over wondering if she was sick or something. She had trouble keeping herself from laughing as Li Li worried about her physical state.
Once she finally passed the last person she needed to. She made it to 300th place. She was covered in sweat and breathing as if she just ran across the whole Yellow Jade City. With her refinements, manually causing herself to sweat isn't an issue. Not that temperatures really could affect her much in the first place. She could walk naked through a blizzard and still feel like she is at room temperature.
So, Jing firmly placed herself in 300th and watched as Bing was doing the same act she was doing earlier! He was crawling up 2500th step miserably. His tongue was hanging out of his mouth, his body was soaked in sweat, he was breathing like an overworked race horse, and his face was bruised and swollen from all the blows he's taken. Jing quickly counted the number of people and saw that Bing was actually the 75th position. He must have ran out of qi to fuel his martial arts.
'What a surprise! Those martial arts can really change a person. Not too long ago he couldn't even fight a wild boar.' Jing thought in amazement.
But she may have spoken too soon. Currently behind Bing was a young girl. She was just as tired and out of breath as everyone else but she seemed determined to past Bing or at least make it to his spot.
"I have to do this... for the Huan clan..." She muttered.
Bing's ears perked up.
'Huan clan?! Another one!? What if she finds out I murdered those other Huan clan members?! That one guy did say they had an elder at the Core Preparation stage. No wait how would she ever find out those guys' blood are on my hands? I got to calm down." Bing let loose a breath of relief.
'But... getting rid of one possible source of trouble would be nice... I seriously don't need something like a cultivator at the core preparation stage breathing down my neck. I'm already a slave. Wait that reminds me where is the demoness at?' Bing started looked ahead of him at the 74 other people above him but didn't see Jing anywhere.
'Eh? That's impossible right? She's way stronger than me. There's no way she could've failed this part.' Bing questioned.
He started to look below him but still couldn't find her anywhere. Maybe... just maybe... she somehow failed...? Tears of relief and happiness were threatening to flow from his face but he quickly slapped his chubby cheeks, making them shake and gaining a red mark.
'It's too earlier to get happy! Let's wait until the next test before thinking that she failed.' He told himself.
The Huan clan girl finally made it to his step and soon realized that she couldn't move any further up. They locked eyes. One with awkwardness and one with determination and fierceness. She entered a martial stance and waited for Bing to get in his. Bing was thinking that maybe fate was on his side...
"I'll move down a step. I wouldn't want to hurt a girl in the first place..." Bing said nicely with his hands up in a surrendering pose.
The girl's face turned angry at his comment and she kicked straight towards his chest in retaliation! Bing's eyes opened wide in surprise as he slid towards the edge of the steps. He turned around to notice exactly how high he was in the sky right now and nearly pissed his pants from fear.
'I almost died! She almost killed me! All I said was I didn't want to hurt her and she tries to kill me over it!?' Bing panicked.
Bing managed to balance himself before he could tip over and watched as the girl kicked towards him again.
"Just a girl huh?! I'll show you not to look down on me you weakling!" She harrumphed.
Bing used his shield and threw it at her. The girl wasn't able to dodge with so little space and limited ground they had. She was sent flying off the edge with Bing's shield in her gut. Bing's shield swerved around in the air after knocking the girl off the edge and returned to his hand. Bing could only hear the sounds of the Huan clan girl screaming as she fell to her death. Around him were eyes judging his previous actions.
"I uh... was protecting myself! You all saw her try to kill me!" Bing defended himself.
"Scum..." He heard someone whisper.
"Who said that!? I'm not scum I just didn't want to die!" Bing fiercely protested.
"Should've just went down a step in the first place. The Huan clan will definitely get revenge on that fatty now. They have a large group inside the sect I hear." He heard another gossip.
Bing felt outraged. Those bastards wouldn't just watch as a girl tried to kill them either! Trying to act all superior. Scumbags... Bing snorted in anger as the second portion of the test seemed to end.
"It seems like everyone are happy with their spots or can't move any further. And with this the top 300 have been chosen to move on. Everyone else will return to Yellow Jade City."