Han Lingyun took a moment to observe the competition. Apart from Yu Tao, there was also a disciple with a grade 3 talent who was still in the run. He practiced the Ground Falcon martial art and had focused to learn the parts pertaining to heightened reflexes and bursts of speed. With this method, he overcame the difference of speed brought by cultivation.
Han Lingyun was momentarily jealous when he realized that this dude must have a strong wind affinity, but he didn't linger too much on this disciple. Speed alone won't overcome anyone left. Now all disciples had their special traits.
Out of the 7 disciples that started in the 2nd bracket, it just so happened that 6 were female. Han Lingyun hadn't seen them around. The male disciple on the other hand, he recognized well. This one had a naturally strong physique and looked like a giant compared to other children his age.
As for the 6 girls in the 2nd bracket, they formed a group together. All had some prior training before enrolling to the sect, possibly together. In addition, one had a water affinity.
Affinities in general are more likely to appear with disciples with higher talent. They are rare but not too uncommon either. Most affinities only play a minor support role and are not that useful later on. However, there were always exceptions like Yu Tao or cultivators that find a method to use their affinity in a clever way.
That wasn't really the case yet for the 5th ranked disciple Liao Zhenzhen and her water affinity. The only advantage she could think of was that it enabled her to choose a more demanding attack style sword art, made for water affinities. It was nothing too ground breaking though. Liao Zhenzhen was relying more on her strength, endurance, techniques and battle awareness to win. However, she now wished she was ranked 6th instead. Being the highest ranked disciple of the 2nd bracket, she was the highest ranked disciple that Yu Tao could challenge. How could she win against Yu Tao's lightning?
In general, those 6 girls didn't have any extraordinary abilities. They were just elites: a firm heart for martial arts, a remarkable intelligence, and great physical capabilities.
The duels commenced once again.
From ranks 24 to 20, nobody behind Han Lingyun managed to take a place in the top 11. Those disciples challenged the lower ranked girls. Those girls were just one cut above them. They had the air of battle-hardened warriors and left no opportunities for the challengers.
Because of the experience they displayed, Han Lingyun wondered what their childhoods was like.
It was his turn to issue a challenge. Han Lingyun chose to challenge the ranked 9 disciple, a red haired beauty named Qin Mei that struggled a bit more when she was challenged by the disciple ranked 23rd.
Han Lingyun, this time armed with a sword and dagger circulated his blackbird art to a greater extent than before. Silent, volatile and deadly. He suddenly appeared a lot more sinister to Qin Mei who was a bit taken aback. She was on guard against Han Lingyun throwing a weapon like he had already done.
Qin Mei channeled her art as well and approached Han Lingyun. She took the initiative to leverage her superior sword play. She frowned as she realized that for some reason it was extremely taxing to try to predict Han Lingyun's movement. She was always slightly off or late, breaking her rhythm.
Han Lingyun suddenly extended his left arm with his knife. She quickly dodged to avoid a throw and tried to counter attack. *Ting* her sword was deflected.
"STOP. Ranked 19th disciple Han Lingyun wins." His dagger was in front of her heart.
Han Lingyun had made a brief change of direction in the movement of his left arm and went for the opening. He had previously realized that his martial art excelled at giving misdirection and rapid changes.
Qin Mei still didn't really understand how she lost. 'This Han Lingyun is so tricky to fight. And every time he fights, he shows a bit more of his abilities. He could still be hiding something.'
This wasn't a very impressive fight with huge shocks so the audience was a bit disappointed. Some even booed, claiming that Han Lingyun was bullying a girl or avoided a fight with those who hadn't been challenged yet.
Many young men were enamored by Qin Mei's dancing red hair and shot Han Lingyun vicious gazes.
Han Lingyun was a bit taken aback by those reactions. Wasn't this a ranking contest? How did he become the villain here?
Shen Lin congratulated him. "Don't worry brother Lingyun, I'll catch you soon enough! As for those criticizing you, hehe they are all the cannon fodder behind, you don't need to bother about them. The moment you come face to face with one, just beat him up." He shook his fists, ready for another fight.
Han Lingyun on the other hand, rationalized like always. "I don't want any unnecessary trouble. By the way, most likely those dudes won't dare to say anything to my face, it's just a crowd thing."
Because he had already lost, Shen Lin was locked at the 19th rank.
Yang Haoyu wanted to challenge Han Lingyun next but he couldn't because Han Lingyun had just finished his duel. He tried his luck against the 8th ranked female disciple. He was of the same mind as Han Lingyun. Who was the easiest opponent of the next bracket? It might be the 11th ranked but even after winning you would probably need to win once again because Yu Tao or another challenger would most likely have made you lose another rank by winning against a higher ranked disciple.
Sadly, for Yang Haoyu, things don't always go as planned. He didn't last 10 seconds before losing his sword and losing officially shortly after. Those girls were ruthless.
The disciple cheered. Many were rooting for the girls. They had already been named 'the 6 sword maidens.'
The duels continued.
The rank 14 disciple won against the rank 11 sword maiden. The rest all lost their challenges. Qin Tengfei that lost to Yu Tao would have had a decent shot if not for his loss. He would have to wait another month to make some progress.
Everybody anticipated the match of Yu Tao versus Liao Zhenzhen. By now, all had recognized his pattern of challenging the highest ranked disciple he could. Will they see the lighting spear once again? Now that Yu Tao was no longer a dark horse, the disciples were rooting for Liao Zhenzhen.
"Liao Zhenzhen!" "Liao Zhenzhen!" "You can do it!"
Only Yu Tao had other ideas. "I challenge rank 7."
The 7th ranked disciple was Ma Zhong, the giant.
Sensing the questioning gazes. Yu Tao added. "I don't harm beautiful girls."
Somehow, Liao Zhenzhen suddenly had the urge to fight Yu Tao to the death.
Ma Zhong wasn't really talkative but just as the match started, he let out a terrifying ROOAAAR before charging with breakneck speed towards Yu Tao. The raging bull martial art. A brute paired with such a speed and a large two-handed sword. Most would avoid him at all cost.
Yu Tao originally hoped he could avoid using his lighting body once again. Using it was extremely taxing! However, he panicked a little when he saw this monster approaching. "Domination spear!"
The elder didn't interrupt the fight and the lighting came into contact with Ma Zhong who was about to crash into Yu Tao with his inertia but a last-minute dodge from Yu Tao saved him from an embarrassing situation. Ma Zhong rolled on the ground for 10s of meters, body twitching.
"Yu Tao wins."
Silence all round.
Then the crowd erupted once again.
"He is so cool!"
"I wish I had a special body like him!"
The elder made sure Ma Zhong was okay. He wasn't too worried though. Ma Zhong was someone that could take a beating. 'If only his intelligence was higher! Then he could have rivaled the 5th grade talents.' His physique naturally granted him superior strength and defense.
As a result of Yu Tao's match, Han Lingyun moved back to rank 10.
The new rank 12 challenged Qin Mei, the red head that lost to Han Lingyun. This one place difference was worth 50 crystals!
The challenge attracted the ire of many male disciples in the crowd.
"Why not challenge the 10th rank?
Why are you trying to gang up on my fairy Qin Mei?
The disciple in question raged inside. 'Why should I challenge Han Lingyun when she has inferior strength and lost to him!?'
It was a nail-biting duel between the two, with both being in disadvantageous positions at one point. Finally, Qin Mei used her wits and battle experience to destabilize her opponent and managed to score the win, for the absolute pleasure of the crowd that went completely wild.
She came back to her 11th position in the 3rd bracket full of smiles.
"It was a very nice match congratulations." Han Lingyun praised.
Qin Mei smiled as a response. "Are you making fun of me disciple Lingyun?"
Han Lingyun defended himself. "Not at all, I truly enjoyed your sword techniques and tricks. I just had an unfair advantage in our match that's all."
Captain Lacroix announced thunderously, silencing the noise of the crowd. "We are now moving on to the top 10. Please give a round of applause for those 10 disciples that will fight it out for the best positions of the rankings."
There was another uproar as the disciples who had long digested their loss were now hyped to watch the best of their year duel.
Qin Mei had already lost once so she couldn't issue a challenge so she left with the disciples of the 3rd bracket.
The ranked 1 to 4 stood up and faced the ranked 5 to 10. The disciples of the 1st bracket and 5th ranked Liao Zhenzhen had yet to fight!
"Disciple Han Lingyun, ranked 10th, who do you wish to challenge?"
Han Lingyun carefully observed the other disciples. He mentally repeated their characteristics.
'Rank 1 Wei Muchen, rank 2 Wang Yimo, both 5th grade talents.
Rank 3 Liao Shao, the highest ranked 4th grade talent according to the initial tests. He has metal affinity and is very shrewd and excellent with many different weapons. I always lost to him with friendly matches.
Rank 4 Li An. A boy that shaves his head every day. He is very mysterious and never talks except if you ask come to ask him something. I don't know much about him but he gives me a feeling of danger. He uses a rod to fight.
Rank 5 Liao Zhenzhen and her water affinity. Part of the newly named Sword maidens. (Unrelated to Liao Shao.)
Rank 6 Huang Xiuying. Sword maiden.
Rank 7 Yu Tao and his lightning body. Spear user.
Rank 8 The giant Ma Zhong.
Rank 9 Liao Qiaolian. 'Sword maiden' and Liao Zhenzhen's cousin.'
All were exceptional. To be at the very top of 800 disciples who were selected among 8000 was no small feat. By now, the disciples had learned the names of their top 10.
Han Lingyun had a short time to strategize.
'I won't be going for the grade 5 talents yet. I will only try if I have a place in the top 4. One week of cultivation advantage is not small at this early stage. Not to mention, both already started training prior to coming here and both must have received some guidance from elders.
My goal is to reach the top 4 but I want to avoid Yu Tao and Li An. Yu Tao because of his lightning, and Li An because of my instincts. If I challenge Liao Shao and win, I'm 95% sure that one of the two will challenge me. My best choice is to fight rank 5 Liao Zhenzhen. That way if I win, I can then challenge Liao Shao from rank 5 and because of the rule against two fights in a row, Li An won't be able to challenge me back.
Finally, she seems to be the perfect opponent to train my blackbird art.'
Han Lingyun made his mind. "I challenge rank 5 disciple Liao Zhenzhen!"