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Weeks passed by and the days started to shorten again. The disciples had now been in the sect for 6 months, half a year. Han Lingyun and some 4th grade talents had reached the bone forging stage, the 4th step of body strengthening. By now, the speed difference had become apparent even for disciples of the same talent.

Han Lingyun's cultivation had sped up quite substantially. This was due to the combination of several factors: the impact off his rainbow pills, the lack of distractions with the dark times having passed, and a healthy mindset. By now, he had also taken his 3rd rainbow pill too. He really started to notice the effects stacking up at each new stage.

The 3rd grade talents were now mostly at the 3rd stage of body strengthening as well and the 2nd grade talents now lagged behind at the 2nd stage.

But out of all the disciples, in cultivation Wang Yimo was fastest and she was the only one yet that had reached the marrow strengthening level, the 5th and last level of body strengthening.

 

Han Lingyun's rank hadn't budged in the last months. There was no incentive to fight inside one bracket anyway. Only the 11th place has been heavily contested by disciples of the 3rd bracket.

 

Today all the disciples had been summoned at the plaza. No long missions had been issued in the last week and any absent disciple has been brought back.

This was the test and ceremony to obtain the white robe with black stripes and everyone had to be there.

A huge boat like flying treasure landed vertically. It made Han Lingyun think of a blimp but with no gas. The 781 remaining disciples boarded the ship and they took off to the site of the test.

That imposing flying structure was in no way slow and the scenery was constantly changing underneath their feet. They passed mountains, rivers and vast forests before arriving at the destination.

After several hours of travel, the blimp landed near a mountain covered by a dense forest that didn't seem to present any remarkable features. Well, if you forget the giant array formation faintly shimmering around the mountain.

Han Lingyun followed the line of disciple as they entered the formation. The mission seemed simple, kill a magic beast and reach the mountain peak.

 

As Han Lingyun continued to follow the line by walking forward, he suddenly turned around as he realized that he was alone., stunning him for a couple of seconds.

'That should be the formation's doing. How magical. Did it trick my sense or what? Anyway, let's focus, the trial has begun.'

Han Lingyun walked through the dense vegetation up the slope and started to channel his blackbird art to be prepared for a fast situation change.

Suddenly a 4-meter-tall bear leaped out from the darkness. Han Lingyun eyes flashed a dangerous light. He didn't dodge but went straight for its head and impaled his jaw and brain with one clean strike. But Han Lingyun realized he had nowhere to dodge as the huge bear crashed down on him. He found himself in the awkard situation of being flattened by the beast he had just killed.

A normal human might have been squashed to death by the weigh of th bear. Han Lingyun shivered as he thought of this tragic ending.

Anyway, Han Lingyun escaped unharmed from underneath the dead body, with his reinforced body, the weight only felt like a light burden. He just had to brush off the dirt.

The climb continued and Han Lingyun had to kill a rank 1 magical beast that jumped on him from time to time. He wondered if the trial had different levels for different disciples because he didn't believe the average disciple could reach the top if that wasn't the case. The beasts he had to face were not so trivial!

The trees became sparser and the bushes became less numerous when all of a sudden, a large black cat tried to bite Han Lingyun's neck. A last-minute reflex saved him and he tucked before trying to strike back the small sized beast.

Han Lingyun's attack only hit empty air as the cat was long gone, it's silhouette already assimilated back in the surrounding trees.

'How could he be this fast? Is it some type of magic beast specialized in speed or something?'

Han Lingyun felt quite troubled. If not for his enhanced reflexes and last-minute reactions, he really could have died miserably right there in that unknown place.

Han Lingyun focused his sense and looked around but couldn't find any traces of the beast, even with his improved eyes that saw clearly in the many shades. The environment provided it with many places to launch surprise attacks.

Han Lingyun felt his thread in his purse but ultimately didn't take it out. This would be his personal test and his black bird art would be enough!

As Han Lingyun was going to concentrate to find his right mood, he had to jump forward to avoid another attack that scratched his back. This time he managed to see the approximate location of where the nimble figure had landed.

 

Han Lingyun focused on his blackbird art and entered a semi trance state.

 

Silence. Death. Volatility.

 

A long wait started as neither the cat nor Han Lingyun budged. It was a silent contest of who would be the first to become impatient and make a move.

Han Lingyun feigned searching at a different zone and turned around. The cat's muscles, that were tensed to an incredible degree suddenly contracted and relaxed as the cat jumped with the speed of an arrow. The energy accumulated through this speed doubled and its sharp claws would easily pierce this defenseless neck.

Whoosh. A small bird abruptly changing its trajectory, a scythe announcing its verdict, the black cat was cut it two.

Han Lingyun stood immobile, a short sword in the air, still at his original place crouching and facing the top of the mountain. His muscles relaxed and he glanced at the ugly corpse.

When he faced back toward the peak of the mountain, he noticed that a couple meters ahead, there were no trees left, as if the forest had just opened itself to reveal a clear path. Han Lingyun walked forward and arrived at the peak, where Captain Lacroix was waiting on a small worn-down altar, a white robe in her left hand and a sword in her right hand.

Han Lingyun knew very well what he was meant to do, as all the disciples had been required to learn the steps of the ceremony he was about to undergo.

He kowtowed on the altar towards Captain Lacroix and proclaimed. "I, Han Lingyun, vow to never betray the White Tiger Sect."

Captain Lacroix then poked Han Lingyun's finger with her sword and a drop of blood landed on the altar.

She solemnly announced.

"Han Lingyun, like the White Tiger you have climbed the Yeshou mountain and have slayed those barring your path.

Han Lingyun, like your ancestors you have spilled blood for the White Tiger's cause.

Disciple Han Lingyun, you may rise. Wear this robe; wear the white tiger in your heart and the White Tiger will protect you."

 

Han Lingyun carefully put on the white robe with the back stripes on. Even though he wasn't that impressed by the whole ceremony, he couldn't help but feel pride at this instant. Pride at his first accomplishments, of the first steps of his dreamed martial path, and even pride for wearing the White Robe that generations of valiant cultivators wore, generations that tirelessly trained in a mad bid to defy the heavens.

 

Captain Lacroix shook his hand and a warm smile unhinged her serious face. "Welcome to the White Tiger Sect. You can now walk back down to the ship. Don't worry there won't be any trouble on the way back."

 

Han Lingyun smiled and calmly followed the instructions. It was an impressive ceremony nonetheless and Han Lingyun understood well how it could influence disciples to become loyal sect followers and make others stay at the sect when a greater opportunity was available. First, create some violent emotions by having the disciples fight for their lives, then the symbolism of the ritual, with the blood and all… It was very well thought out!

Han Lingyun mostly felt it was a fun experience though, that's all. This wouldn't be enough to brainwash him into staying to the sect, when his goals brought him far away.

 

Han Lingyun arrived at the ship with his new robes. Shen Lin, Yang Haoyu and hundreds of disciples were already there. Everyone was quite dashing in that new look, and many held their heads so high they could strain their neck.

"Hey brother Lingyun, what took you so long out there?" Shen Lin put an arm behind his back.

"Ugh, I don't know, the climb just wouldn't end, I had to kill dozens of magic beasts and all."

Yang Haoyu was also complaining. "Right. It was unending for me too! And brother Lin was nonstop boasting because he was one of the first to finish, he was just lucky to only have to kill 2 beasts that's why!"

"How is that possible?" Han Lingyun faced his bro.

"I don't know man, I thought it was the same for everyone. Maybe it's to have one disciple at a time at the top or something." Shen Lin proposed.

Han Lingyun shrugged. "Then one beast could be enough, just make the disciples unable to find their way for a time and you are good. I had to kill some really nasty cat at the end."

Yang Haoyu also grumbled. "Maybe it's because we were too good, brother Lingyun. That mountain wanted us to have a difficult fight but we easily took care of those beasts."

They looked back at Shen Lin with a smirk, who didn't like that hypothesis at all. If those that had to stay longer had to face stronger beasts, and the level of difficulty was in adequation with the one taking the test in order for everyone to have a brush with death, didn't that mean that he was the weakest among the three?

Shen Lin cleared his throat and tried to brush it off. "Who cares? That formation was weird that's all."

 

As the disciple came back to the sect, a new sense of unity and belonging had permeated the group. Many feuds had been swept under the rug and the remaining disciples were excited to progress together once again. Not all were celebrating though because some had lost good friends. 83 never made it to the altar at the top of the mountain. For the average disciple, this has been a trial by blood. Those that lost their means in the critical situation, the weakest mentally and physically had been rooted out.

 

 

And so, time continued its inexorable advance. Ever since the day of the trial for the White Robe, Han Lingyun's missions had found less and less volunteers. The missions outside the sect had become available for all the disciples and many preferred those missions to hone their skills and gain real combat experience. Not only was the payout higher, they craved for more adventure after the boost of confidence their new robes had provided them.

Han Lingyun had to increase the rewards he posted. His monthly earnings had thus dropped to less than 10 000 Ps. He had also given Chang Xin bribes in form of treasure swords and pills to cement their relationship further and make sure he would not be tempted by speaking behind his back. With all the benefits he had received, he was now as implicated as Han Lingyun. After some considerations, Han Lingyun hadn't involved anyone else in their business to minimize risks. Being too greedy wasn't a good thing.

All in all, Han Lingyun was glad to continue with his comfortable rhythm. But on that day, he received a visit that threatened to shake up his schedule and plans.

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