In the Sun empire, there was a crucial ceremony for everyone. Every year on the 3rd day of the third month was the national day, to celebrate the day the empire was founded more than 500 years ago. It was also during the festivities that all children between 10 and 11 years old would experience the coming-of-age ceremony, a necessary step and a symbolic leap out of child-life. Indeed, in the empire, those who have been baptized by the ceremony are expected to behave like adults.
For most citizens of the empire, it isn't clear why such an age was chosen except for the reason that it has always been the case. However, a member of the government or a scholar would point out that one's spirit root, will emerge before one's 10th birthday, and this ceremony is also the occasion for cultivation sects to find potential disciples, just as cultivation sects guarantee some sort of protection to the empire. In fact, such customs are spread far and wide on the planet, and are not limited to the Sun empire.
Today, it was Han Lingyun's turn to participate in the ceremony, his gaze firm and determined. He thought back to the previous week when he woke up suddenly due to a splitting headache, and a whole new set of memories.
Then he understood: 'I was James Tolkien on Earth in my past life, I am reborn as Han Lingyun in the Sun empire for this life. I have always yearned for more knowledge. In my previous life, I was blocked by my human shackles. Now I have a chance to become a cultivator, I have a chance to break those shackles, I have a chance to uncover the secrets of this world, to uncover the secrets of immortality. I remember the old fogey I saw before dying talking about my talent. If nothing went wrong, I guess that I am guaranteed to be noticed by those cultivators.'
Han Lingyun looked around, there was hundreds of children all around him. They were bunched up at the town's center plaza. This day was a celebration for everyone in the city, with dances and fireworks planned for the night. But now it was time for the city's representative to deliver a speech in front of the 10-year-old children.
A bearded man stepped up on the platform overlooking the plaza and started his annual tirade with fervor.
"Today you are 553 children. Tomorrow the city of Cemone and its population of 38000 will have 553 more new young adults. The emperor expects you to work well for the empire and the city of Cemone will work to shape you into capable young adults! May the…"
Han Lingyun quickly dosed off to the unnecessary presentation followed by the representative reminding everyone of his importance and of the glory of the empire.
The nation's motto marking the end of the speech jolted Han Lingyun awake.
"… and finally, you must remember: the Sun will always rise!"
"THE SUN WILL ALWAYS RISE" answered as one the hundreds of children.
'Well, our schools definitely made a good job to indoctrinate us to the empire, not that it matters for me as I should soon become a cultivator… Wait why am I raising flags for myself? Don't tell me I have a super powerful talent that cannot be detected or something ridiculous. Please no.'
As Han Lingyun was starting to panic a little, the children were being called one by one in alphabetical order and led to another building. Han Lingyun couldn't help but notice that many had the same family name. 30 children came from the Fei family. In fact, this wasn't much of a surprise, family clans were part of the culture here. These clans with more than 1000 members often possessed the various businesses in town and had members in the upper echelon.
The Fei Family was a noteworthy actor of the city of Cemone, some would say the local hegemons. However, the empire always tried to keep the family clans in check, limiting their power. The representative for instance was chosen by the county and wasn't part of the Fei family.
This didn't concern Han Lingyun much, his Han family was small, with humble origins with his parents being very successful for the family's standard. They were 5 with the Han surname today, with only one cousin he knew well.
As Han Lingyun was pondering, names continued being called one at a time.
"Go Zinshan…. Han Bao…. Han Jilian… Han Lingyun."
Finally, it was his turn to bow to the representative as custom. He entered a hall with rows of guards, then had to walk down some stairs to another room. Two young men, possibly around 16 years old were standing to the left and right of a mirror, placed flat on a table. Han Lingyun had no doubt: those two were cultivators. They just felt powerful.
"Hello, press your hands on the mirror." one announced for the 128th time. The lack of attendance and bored behavior of the two dedramatized the importance that this one test will have on Han Lingyun's life. Indeed, for now he was just a number. As he pressed his hands on the smooth surface, he was gripped by a strong sense of coldness. First his hands, then spreading to his arms, his torso… As the cold reached his solar plexus, he suddenly felt a spark ignite, and the mirror started to glimmer with a yellow color.
One of the two cultivators raised an eyebrow and gave a warm smile. "Nice! Finally, another one! You can lift your hands now that's all for the test. Congratulations little one, you are a lucky possessor of a spirit root, with odds of less than one in a hundred!"
Han Lingyun felt a wave of relief wash over him. The journey was about to begin!
The talkative cultivator continued: "This spirit root is your ticket to become a cultivator like the two of us. If you want to learn more about cultivators or try to join our cultivation sect, you can come back tomorrow morning at 8 with your parents. Be sure to make your goodbyes beforehand if you think that you will come with us because we will be taking off shortly after. Ah and you don't need any belongings. Actually, just don't take any they would be useless."
Han Lingyun beamed. "Of course, senior! I will be here tomorrow! May I ask senior, how many of our group have spirit roots?"
"For now, you are the second, we can hope for a couple more but it would be lucky if there are 5 of you lot. Okay, here you go. NEXT!" The cultivator gestured for Han Lingyun to leave from another side.
That evening, Han Lingyun celebrated happily with his parents. Han Xue let out a tear when she learned that her son had talent for cultivation. It wasn't clear if it was due to happiness and pride or sadness of letting her son go. Han Feng cheekily reassured her by proposing to have another little kid if she wanted company. After a last tour of the festive town, Han Lingyun was sent to bed early: tomorrow would be a busy day.
It was very peaceful this morning, the city was still sleeping from last night's feasts and the partying. Except for 6 young kids surrounded by a pack of proud parents.
The two cultivators that tested them yesterday appeared in their midst, no one having noticed them just before.
"Good everyone's here, this year is a good one". The talkative cultivator announced.
"Before we leave, I have two things to say. One is that you are not disciples of our sect yet. When we arrive, there will be a sect examination with other candidates like you. Second and this is a friendly warning, the cultivation world as you may know is filled with unimaginable things, heavenly palaces and treasures but it also is a ruthless and bloody world with constant competition for resources. Now you can still decide to stay here if you wish."
None moved. How could one refuse the lure of the fantastical possibilities' cultivation offered? The kids made their goodbyes to their teary-eyed parents. It might be years before they see them again.
"Alright let's go then, most of the children will end up in a less powerful sect though." The cultivator warned the parents.
The 10-year-old kids let out startled cries as they felt their feet lift the ground. They floated in two groups of 3 to the big flying swords. And then they were gone. Some of the children turned around and hurriedly waved back to their parents disappearing from their view.
This trip could have been a terrifying experience for Han Lingyun, but the sense of security the two cultivators gave him superseded any fear of heights. In fact, he loved it. As he marveled at the low resistance of the air they felt, he gently stroked the bracelet on his left wrist, which his mother had given him the previous day as a parting gift.
At the bottom of a mountain, flying swords, flying carriages and other types of flying magic treasures, but also large eagles and a multitude of flying beasts were converging from all directions, disciples carrying candidates for the disciple selection of the White Tiger Sect. In total, there were thousands of candidates coming from every town in the Lui region of the Empire.
This region had a population of around 150 million people so it after the initial shock of such as sight, it came to no surprise for Han Lingyun that this many had spirit roots. And the empire had 16 such regions! Indeed, at that scale, having a spirit root was nothing noteworthy. During the trip, Bei Ning the talkative disciple, described a bit the situation of the local sects.
"There are 16 main sects in the empire, each selecting disciples from one region. Those 16 together form the Sun Cultivation Alliance, mainly to ward off external threats. However, there has always been competition between the 16 sects, with none able to dominate the others." Bei Ning described with enthusiasm.
The children listened with rapt attention as Bei Ning was widening their horizons.
All around the atmosphere was jubilant. There was an unconcealed excitement in the air as the thousands of youths were examining their surroundings. Happily chatting about their future.
"SILENCE!" A profound voice suddenly boomed in the valley, accompanied by a terrifying pressure.
Everything stopped. All held their breaths.
"You are NOTHING yet, remember well. Before becoming a disciple, you have to pass a series of tests. Out of the more than 8000 here, not even 800 will be selected." A wave of murmurs ran through the crowd.
'A 10% selection rate? This would prove harder than I anticipated' Han Lingyun couldn't help but frown.
"I SAID SILENCE!" the voice boomed again.
After a pause, the voice announced with severity, "Before the selection even begins, you need to reach the sect entrance at the mountain pass in front of you, this should weed out the truly unworthy. You have 6 hours. BEGIN!"