The week passed by and it was already time for the 3rd ranking competition. The first consequence of this month's shenanigans was very clear to everyone: the disciples' progress had slowed down considerably. For many it had completely stalled, and that's not even counting those that had been severely injured or that ended in a sorry state.
Most disciples were back from their injuries after buying healing pills with the Ps they had left. However, a lot were still obviously weakened.
There was now a clear separation between the average disciple that left the sect for the mission with Captain Lacroix and the average disciple that remained. Not only were the first ones in much better shape, many had made important gains in the last week after having used the large amount of Ps they had won to purchase resources.
On the other hand, the gangs were too focused on fighting each other to have much time to use all the resources they plundered.
Those piles of crystals had been distributed equally between the hundreds of disciples that didn't join any gangs, under Wang Yimo's command. As a result, each disciple only gained a small portion, which was probably theirs to begin with.
With hindsight, having left the sect was a blessing for many.
There was another important detail that was a cold shower for all: the last ranked disciple was now ranked 785th.
15 disciples were now classified as "Dead or Missing." In fact, the ranks automatically updated themselves whenever a disciple died. The disciples also understood that "missing" had another meaning for the sect.
This month, the changes in rankings were very substantial. A lot of those that had previously downgraded had to leave the sect with Captain Lacroix and many took their revenge. It wasn't uncommon for a 2nd grade talent to defeat a wounded 3rd grade talent.
Chang Sile, the disciple that entered the sect at the 800th rank, was one of this month's big winners. He had lost a bracket last time round but this time he advanced by two brackets and reached the 378th rank.
He clenched his fists with pride as he felt that the worst had passed.
The 4th grade talents also overtook nearly all the 3rd grade talents that had beaten them the month prior: the gap between each step of body strengthening increased with every new stage.
There was less movement at the very top. Everyone had now reached the 3rd step (except for Yu Tao) and many had remained low key during the month, focusing mainly on cultivation.
In fact, no one new made an appearance in the second bracket, but there were still some changes in positions. Li An also had to face challenges from Qin Tengfei, Liao Zhenzhen and Ma Zhong but he never flinched and managed to disarm his opponents with jaw dropping ease.
Yu Tao didn't challenge Wei Mucheng this time. He had to make a significant breakthrough with his lightning body if he fancied another chance. For now, he would bide his time.
Wang Yimo took a good glance at Wei Mucheng as well. He tried to remain as composed and detached as possible. Her message clear, Wang Yimo didn't challenge him as well. She didn't want the golden badge for number 1.
Han Lingyun had not been challenged and didn't challenge anyone.
In the end, the final rankings of the competition were:
1st: Wei Mucheng
2nd: Wang Yimo
3rd: Yu Tao
4th: Li An
And in the second bracket
5th: Han Lingyun
6th: Liao Zhenzhen
7th: Qin Tengfei
8th: Qin Mei
9th: Ma Zhong
10th: Liao Shao
11th: Huang Xiuying
It must be remembered that the two with the Qin surname weren't related; same for Liao Zhenzhen and Liao Shao. It just so happened that these surnames were widespread in the Sun empire and on the continent in general.
However, that was enough for disciples to try to ship those two pairs together. They might have to work a bit harder for anything to happen though because the disciples in question all ignored those comments.
A new rhythm settled on the village of 1st years.
There was another change at the mission hall: new missions outside the sect started to pop up! However, those missions were restricted for 3rd step body strengthening disciples and higher for now. This effectively only allowed 4th grade talents to leave the sect for the moment!
At the 3rd stage of body strengthening, the disciples should be able to dominate all mortal opponents. In consequence, the sect was keener on letting them explore the outside world and gain experience. Their only risks would be when encountering other cultivators or coming face to face with a magic beast. These possibilities still remained unlikely.
The missions proposed were of the protecting or safeguarding type: protect a village, a caravan, a bigwig. The opponents could be some beasts or bandits.
The disciple that picked up such a mission would be transported by qi condensation disciples that had taken another mission nearby. The distances were too big without flying otherwise. It must be said that the school itself was really in the middle of nowhere. Or perhaps the Elders didn't allow for settlements to pop up in the sect's vicinity.
Because the outside missions only allowed 4th grade disciples for now, this change didn't affect Han Lingyun's business much. Those were only a minority.
Weeks passed by as Han Lingyun continued to cultivate diligently, staying in the sect. Every now and then he would check if a mission could take him near the city of Cemone, where his parents still lived, but the odds were very low of that ever happening.
By now, Han Lingyun had read several times elder Wen's proof for his math problem. He was amazed by the similarities with the proof from the mathematician of his previous world. He still remembered some vague ideas of that last one. He would definitely further research these links between math and runes later on.
From time to time, Han Lingyun would scratch his head on another math problem that Elder Wen provided him. More and more, those touched on abstract concepts and he loved it.
This was also a period where Han Lingyun had more time to ponder. For example, a question he had left unanswered for some time was. 'What are the 5 elements?'
Funnily enough, this concept was present in some form or another in a couple of cultures of his previous world. Han Lingyun's understanding was that Human's liked to classify and rationalize most things, and imagining those 5 (or 6 or 7 depending on the culture) elements as building blocks of everything around us had a nice appeal.
However, there were obviously some more profound intricacies to the 5 elements here, as they were correlated to qi and the spirit.
Perhaps the 5 elements were natural states of qi. Perhaps their rune transcription was building blocks in the runic world. Han Lingyun tried to use his understanding of the element's significance in his previous world for his hypothesis.
He liked the first hypothesis quite a lot though. If it was a natural state of qi, it wouldn't be surprising that the affinities with the elements were quite widespread, one just had to have a body with a special resonating capacity with one state of qi. Perhaps this happened in the spirit root? Or was it due to the dantian or the qi pathways?
Sadly, Han Lingyun couldn't just experiment on his fellow disciples.
A concept of an element was also extremely complex. For example, when Han Ling thought about it, fire encompassed warmth, life, destruction, anger, movement, temperature, smelting, cooking, pill creation, burning, combustion and chemical reactions and the list went on. Two people will have a different idea of the concept of fire, so how can two people inscribe the same rune? That was another question that Han Lingyun had for elder Wen.
When he visited Elder Wen again, the response he got enlightened him significantly. "The symbol of the rune is the true form that enables the user to inscribe his meaning, you can think of it as a support. If you want to paint, you need a canvas. When inscribing a rune, the symbol is the canvas and you are painting with your spirit."
Elder Wen and Han Lingyun had another passionate discussion regarding the math problems that Han Lingyun had worked on, and on the various questions about cultivation Han Lingyun had.
At the end of their afternoon tea. Han Lingyun mentioned he had bought the Clear Liquid from the Cub's Den in order to see better in darkness.
Elder Wen agreed it was a sensible purchase and insisted on staying by Han Lingyun's side when he would use the drops on himself, to be sure no complications happened.
As a result, Han Lingyun proposed to use the two drops of Clear Liquid right away and Elder Wen watched on attentively.
Han Lingyun knew it could be painful, but he wasn't ready for that amount of pain! It literally felt as though spikes were continuously rammed into his eyes. He literally cried tears of blood and finished on the ground rolling and convulsing.
There wasn't much Elder Wen could do to alleviate the pain, as everything involving qi also had a link to the spirit. The Elder used his spirit sense to check that Han Lingyun didn't receive any physical damage from the liquid and it everything looked all right. His main task was to make sure Han Lingyun didn't commit any mistakes and that his heart didn't stop from the intense pain. Elder Wen tried awkwardly to recomfort the disciple in intense agony but this was definitely not his forte.
"You are doing great Lingyun. You just need to endure the pain a bit more."
After a couple of minutes, the atrocious stabbing sensation finally died down enough for Han Lingyun to open his eyes. They still felt terribly itchy though. Elder Wen comforted him again, made him drink some tea that helped with sleep, and prepared a hot bath with medicinal herbs to relax the body.
Han Lingyun still had a throbbing headache as he walked into the bath, but he soon fell asleep, completely exhausted by the experience.
When he woke up several hours later, the pain was completely gone. His eyesight only felt a bit strange. The Clear Liquid didn't give Han Lingyun a thermal vision, it enabled him to accentuate the brightness in environments with low luminosity. It is similar to what a cat vision during nighttime, but even more effective. The drawback is that in absolute darkness, Han Lingyun would not see any better than previously. That would never be the case in the outside but could happen in a cave for example.
Han Lingyun smiled; he was still very content with this improvement.
It was good now that the tortuous process was over! Han Lingyun hoped he would never have to relive this again. Thankfully the eyes were probably the worst part of the body, so the worst had been done. Right?