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The temperature was hot on that summer morning, the night hadn't been refreshing and a mortal would find himself sweating already with that stifling air. However, on the 2nd years plaza, the atmosphere was freezing cold. The tension had reached its peak as the duels were about to start for the first time in 3 months.

To promote a new ambition, Captain Lacroix dangled an additional 300 Ps bonus for those that challenged and won 3 times.

There was a reason why the sect based its reward system on the battles between cultivators: the main enemies were not magical beasts but the other cultivation sects. The sect thus enticed disciples to choose martial arts meant to take down other cultivators or defend from them.

Disciples kept a close eye on those they could be challenging. The reward for a disciple below the 400th rank that won 3 times his challenges were as high as for a 1st year in the first bracket, counting Captain Lacroix's bonus. With those resources they could potentially overtake their peers and get even more resources, being the start of their rise.

Before announcing the start of the duels, Captain Lacroix had an unusually grave air as the plaza maintained a respectful silence.

"Disciples, you have now taken your marks in the sect. You have now grown accustomed to your training partners, made some friends and experienced the joys of cultivation.

By now you should know that at the end of the year, there will be a ranking competition with all the sects of the Sun Cultivation Alliance. All those previous ranking competitions have been in preparation for that deadline in less than 9 months. Time flies by and right now you are far from ready.

Since your arrival here, some have found pleasure in conflicts or hampering weaker disciples, others have grown complacent and are satisfied with their current standings. If that trend continues, you will all hit a wall in 9 months: what awaits you is humiliation, failure, suffering and crushing defeats.

This is much more serious than just a mistake along the way. Your personal achievements during the competition will decide your place within the sect for the next two years. And because this learning period is crucial, this may seal your fate in the cultivation world.

In truth, the White Tiger School, the sect that provided you with the opportunity to thrive in the cultivation world, places high hopes on you lot. The Sun Alliance ranking competition is first and foremost a competition between sects, for honor and to prove which sect's philosophy is more successful. Those that have better showings should receive more resources in the alliance to fight against our common enemies. As you may know, the cultivation world is built on a constant struggle for resources.

Your destinies are now linked to the White Tiger School. I hope that the school is more than a robe and a song in your hearts. Don't forget your teachers and don't forget your oaths. Let this be your wakeup call: from now on, you will be training, you will be suffering, you will be fighting for your sake, for your comrades, and for the sect. I believe in you; now I am waiting to see your transformation before the end of the year."

 

That day, the ranking competition was taking a lot more time than usual. Disciples that often settled for their current rankings or felt stuck in their brackets were now all issuing challenges until they lost. Between the additional rewards and their Captain's speech, all were animated by a new motivation to go beyond their limits.

Some that had remained low key chose to reveal their fangs. The fact that many had learned 2 additional martial arts since the beginning of the year also complexified the duels and added to the reshuffling of the ranks. The average battle lasted a lot longer than previously with the additional defense or movement.

There was still a large barrier between every talent grade though: by now, 2nd grade talent were generally at the Muscle Training stage, the 3rd level of body strengthening. 3rd grade talents were mostly at the 4th level: bone strengthening, and a handful had even reached marrow cleansing.

The gap was even larger with the 4th grade talents who were now all at qi condensation except for 3. Yang Haoyu was among those 3 and thus was pushed back to the 42nd rank. At least his cultivation at the peak of body strengthening still provided him a decisive advantage against all 3rd grade talents. He realized that he was still among the elite and lucky ones after all, and all the lower talents probably envied him as well. This made him put into perspective his circumstances.

The struggle for the readjustments in the rankings was fierce among the 4th grade talents. The fixed order that had settled had exploded as different disciples faced different trajectories at the qi condensation stage.

 

Another notable point was that the disciples that had an affinity to an element often displayed a faster growth at the qi condensation realm. In addition, those that practiced a martial art that used the corresponding qi element had more powerful and elaborate arts than their colleagues.

Shen Lin, with his fire affinity, managed to win 3 duels and climb at the 15th rank, his best rank since the first month at the sect! His fist also managed to prove its point. At the qi condensation stage, weapons shifted from their traditional use at close range and now functioned more as tools to channel qi. By now, his dragon fist showed its might as it released a fiery wave of qi hurtling to his opponents. Shen Lin had also grown used to having a shield by now and had complemented his style with a defensive type magical art that essentially functioned as a qi shield on top.

However, the competition for the 2nd bracket was too fierce for him, between those that had reached qi condensation more than 3 months ago and those that wanted to get their place back.

Yu Tao was an anomaly once again. He chose to not compete and abandoned all his challenges. Still at the 5th stage of body strengthening, he was biding his time to make the big jump and crush Wei Muchen back. As a result, his rank came back down to 24th. He would remember all the faces of those that challenged him though. In fact, Yu Tao had the power to compete with those disciples.

Recently he had been completing mission after mission to polish his fighting skills. All those missions were meant for qi condensation disciples. By now, he had killed more than one cultivator at that level. He would grow by putting his life on the line. With the help of his teacher, not only had his cultivation outpaced the 2nd and 3rd grade talents, his fighting proficiency made him practically unmatched at his level.

 

After some intense challenges from the disciples at the 3rd bracket, those that were in the top 11 were:

 

#1 Wei Muchen

#2 Wang Yimo

#3 Han Lingyun

#4 Qin Mei

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#5 Qin Tengfei

#6 Liao Shao

#7 Liao Zhenzhen

#8 Pan Xiulan – (lost)

#9 Lai Meihui

#10 Ma Zhong– (lost)

#11 Qi Bo.

 

Li An was still learning a new martial art for his staff, Wu Fa's axe style fell short and Yu Tao didn't fight: those three were pushed out of the top 11.

Ma Zhong (the giant) and Liao Zhenzhen (the sword maiden with water affinity) fought for their place back into the 2nd bracket. Finally, there was a new entrant: Lai Meihui, a female disciple that wasn't part of the sword maidens. She had a fire affinity as well as a special character: she would always tell her true thoughts without hiding anything. This trait made her rather unpopular and she only had one close friend.

Back to the matches, Qi Bo managed to take down Qin Mei for a provisional 4th rank. This time round, Han Lingyun had to fight as he was challenged by Lai Meihui. He managed to quickly catch her off guard with an invisible qi blade and win the match.

*Che* "You fight like a coward with your insidious tricks. I hate that sort of people. Always hiding their true intentions and backstabbing you when you least expect it." Lai Meihui like always, gave her piece of mind with no filter.

Han Lingyun wasn't going to let her spit on him with impunity. "You would already be dead meat without the elder saving you. Dead meat doesn't complain."

"Humph."

 

The duels continued and Liao Zhenzhen attempted a challenge against Qi Bo but failed as well.

 

#1 Wei Muchen

#2 Wang Yimo

#3 Han Lingyun

#4 Qi Bo

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#5 Qin Mei– (lost)

#6 Qin Tengfei

#7 Liao Shao

#8 Liao Zhenzhen– (lost)

#9 Pan Xiulan– (lost)

#10 Lai Meihui– (lost)

#11 Ma Zhong– (lost)

 

Liao Shao realized he didn't have the parade against Han Lingyun's movements and invisible blades so he wouldn't be challenging him, especially when he sensed Han Lingyun's dense qi that hinted he still had hidden cards. Liao Shao's strength wasn't speed but his strong qi attacks reinforced by the metal element. Because Qi Bo had just fought, Liao Shao could either attempt to challenge Wei Muchen or Wang Yimo, or he could challenge Qin Tengfei with the purpose of challenging Qi Bo right afterwards to make it into the first bracket.

His heart wanted to challenge Wei Muchen but his mind turned toward Qin Tengfei.

In the end, he listened to his mind, in a duel with Qin Tengfei that would be remembered for the raw power of the exchanges. The two competed in strength and qi attacks at every blow as they rocked the arena. Liao Shao's cultivation had made leaps in 3 months with his metal affinity and he managed to make Qin Tengfei bend the knee.

After a 20-minute rest period where he furiously absorbed qi, Liao Shao came back to the arena with Qi Bo for company. A sword cultivator against one with metal affinity that focused on strength. It was another contest of might and Liao Shao triumphed to claw his way back to the 1st bracket for the first time since his electrifying accident when facing Yu Tao on the first month.

He had gained a new understanding of swords in his battle against Qi Bo and began considering focusing on a sword as well, a sword of righteousness.

 

Now assured of his 4th place, Liao Shao didn't stop and issued a challenge to Wei Muchen making the disciples absolutely blow up of excitement and expectations. This would be the first time someone challenged Wei Muchen since he had humiliated Yu Tao.

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