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'No time to lose, let's get to work!'

Han Lingyun's train of thought was suddenly interrupted by a familiar voice "Hey brother Lingyun, how's it going? What's up with that look? It's so dark I feel like you just morphed into a villain or something! Hum, that's not true, right?" Shen Lin examined his new friend closely.

Han Lingyun, who got taken out of his reverie, lightened his somber look. "Hehe brother Lin, I was motivating myself for teacher Xian's program."

"Ah yes, I will also force my lazy self to follow the program, I don't want to be left in the dust by the others. But why are we even talking about that, have you seen that freaking punch?" Shen Lin smacked his cheeks.

Han Lingyun was of the same mind. "I've got no words. It's exciting and quite terrifying when you think about it. Imagine being frustrated and flattening a mountain range for the sport?"

"Haha I can't wait! But what about after the Core Formation realm, do you know what comes next? How powerful would that be?" Shen Lin mused.

"I'm not sure. I think we haven't heard of it yet because it's just too far off for us puny little mortals hehe." Han Lingyun replied jokingly.

"Hey we are body strengthening cultivators now that we have taken the first step." Shen Lin acted obfuscated.

"Sais the kid who could still get whipped by his daddy if he is too naughty." Han Lingyun continued to tease.

Shen Lin's face fell. He lost this round.

Han Lingyun changed the topic after his score. "By the way brother Lin, what martial art did you chose?"

Shen Lin acted as though nothing happened. "Ah, I went for the White Dragon fist. Its an attack type and a stronger variant than the classic Tiger Paw. It also goes well with my fire affinity. On the short term, it might lose out to weapons but my fist still hardens considerably when practicing the martial art. It can block swords head on too."

"O I didn't know you have a fire affinity!" Han Lingyun was genuinely surprised.

"Hehe what did you expect from a guy with fire affinity, red hair and breathing flames?" It was Shen Lin's turn to be smug.

Han Lingyun scratched his head.

"Anyway, brother Lingyun, what was your choice for a martial art?" Shen Lin asked back.

"Me? I've taken the blackbird martial art; it is movement based."

The two friends continued to chat along a while longer as they went back home.

"How about a bit of hand-to-hand combat at the training grounds? We still have a couple of hours before being able to cultivate again!" Shen Lin proposed.

"That's not a bad idea, but I know nothing about combat." Han Lingyun wanted to reject at first.

"That's not a problem, apparently there are master level instructors of all kinds at the training grounds and arenas, I'm sure they have some good exercises for newbies." Shen Lin pushed.

"Do those instructors always stay there?" Han Lingyun suspiciously asked.

"Apparently, they do, my major told me some are a bit too humm…. focused on their art. Like one would just punch the air repeatedly all day until a disciple comes up to him for advice. Rumor has another one never let go of his sword for the last decade."

"Isn't that too extreme?" Han Lingyun was gob smacked.

"They are rumors after all. Come on let's go". Shen Lin was nearly pulling his friend to the training grounds.

"Okay, that shouldn't do any harm anyway, right?" Han Lingyun still felt apprehensive.

 

….

 

The next morning, as the village of 1st years was slowly waking up again, strangled cries were resonating in Han Lingyun's house.

"Ugh. Aaaakk. Ouch. Arg. Ugh."

'It hurts. My back. My shoulders. My legs. My everything. Why are those instructors so damn merciless? And that bastard Shen Lin I'll beat him down properly next time.'

A groggy Han Lingyun emerged from bed, contemplating his life's decision. He was definitely a tough 10-year-old for his previous life's standards. The problem was that here, most of the others were even tougher. And the instructors knew exactly what type of exercise to use in order to spend the newbies thoroughly and push them hard.

'I could also make some progress on combat awareness; I don't think that I landed a punch on Shen Lin. Without my cultivation session before sleep, I wouldn't have been able to close an eye with those cramps and bruises. What was teacher Xian saying about pain? I guess it only applies to cultivation and not physical training. Bastard. And it's time for 2 hours of the high intensity physical exercise.

Han Lingyun was not in the mood for more intensive exercises. A simple jogging will do for this morning, with some additional stretches to loosen up.

 

The small town of 800 houses was full of activity at 5 A.M. The last first years that were not awake surely had been woken up by now, with the noise and activity all around.

Many went in the direction of the training grounds. Others like Han Lingyun chose something less straining for this morning.

Everyone found their own balance, but one thing was certain: Professor Xian's advice was well applied. It just remained to be seen whether the disciples would be able to maintain this rigor for weeks and months.

It should be remembered that despite their new status as cultivators, the 1st years were still 10-years-old! Of course, the education grew them to be more mature but the harsh conditions of their new life could prove difficult for some, if it was not for the positive emulation all around.

Once you get into the world of cultivation you can't leave it. Actually, cultivators very rarely have such ideas: they are an obstinate bunch who always have a higher realm to reach.

Only the new disciples could have second thoughts. However, disciples were not allowed to leave freely the sect without taking on a specific mission until they reached the cultivation level of qi condensation.

This was both a measure to protect the disciples, as they wouldn't have the strength to survive in the wilderness surrounding the sect, needing a qi condensation cultivator to protect them, and it was also a way to retain followers. The badmouths would talk about a prison. The placement of the sect had been chosen carefully, with many factors in mind like defense, density of qi or the disciples' growth.

After the first difficult days or weeks, when the disciple would start to gain more strength by cultivating and be amazed by their newfound power, any idea of giving up would disappear. Cultivation is too addicting!

It should also be noted that the 800 disciples were extremely motivated by the promises of cultivation and had already overcome many obstacles to be there. None was a wimp and no one wanted to lose the efforts accumulated to get here as well as the unique opportunity to cultivate.

Han Lingyun, having finished his morning sport moved on to a cultivation session. Time passed in a flash as it was already 12. Food was served in a large hall with enough space to accommodate all 800 1st years. Han Lingyun noticed that many of the chefs were older disciples. The food was great and precisely adjusted for the needs of the children, with a good chunk of calories.

 

Han Lingyun caught up with Shen Lin before the beginning of the afternoon lecture.

"Brother Shen, yesterday was too brutal for me. The afternoons are meant for lower intensity training!"

Shen Lin patted his friend on the back. "Come on you've got some catching up to do. By the way I'm quite interested, how did you reach the 16th rank. I mean no offence brother Lingyun, but there are many 4th grade talents who seem better at fighting and all, and you don't have any affinity. So, what's so special about you?"

"Hehe, I'm not trying to boast here but I'm pretty smart. I should have scored highly in memory and logic tests. You know there are some specializations, like array construction, that require more brains than brawn, too."

"You? Smart? Who would have thought?" Shen Lin acted completely floored.

Han Lingyun ignored him. "Come on, I don't want to see what will happen if we are late. Teacher Xian might launch you back home for all I know."

"Hehe you're right let's hurry up." Shen Lin quickly caught up.

 

Teacher Xian was alone today.

"Good afternoon, 1st years. I hope you had some good rest. Hum it seems that everyone's here. Oh? 5…. 10…. 35…. 76 of you didn't do 2 additional cultivation sessions after my last class. That's a great idea, to start lagging behind from the beginning. Don't get bad habits little ones."

The disciples in question lowered their heads. Most thought they were too tired to cultivate after some draining physical training.

Teacher Xian looked disapprovingly as he remembered the faces. Nothing could slip through his notice. Of course, it was child's play for a Core Formation cultivator to determine the amount of qi the disciples had. By taking in account the disciples talent grade, he could deduce the number of cultivation sessions they had. Another advantage of cultivation is that it increases the speed of thinking and the memory capacity. Memorizing all the details of 800 disciples wasn't an issue for teacher Xian.

"Anyway, yesterday I gave you all a lot of advice and a good guideline to follow. Today I'll start by answering any questions you have. It doesn't have to be about cultivation."

Han Lingyun looked around, he feared that his question about qi would ridicule him. He steeled himself but someone spoke first before he had the time to ask anything.

It was Wei Muchen, the ranked 1 disciple that stood up. "Pardon me teacher for my presumptuous question."

"You can continue, disciple Muchen." Teacher Xian encouraged the first speaker.

"Yesterday you spoke about how Core Formation cultivators are much more desirable than a bunch of rabbles. So why doesn't the sect pour all its resources into the disciples with the best talent but spreads resources to many who are unlikely to break through that realm?"

A heavy silence weighed down on Wei Muchen but he didn't flinch from the pressure of less talented disciples eying him dangerously.

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