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Ever since that first day at the forest, Han Lingyun began to cultivate in the wood element cultivation ground. Once again, his cultivation speed increased by nearly 30%.

In his spiritual world, he would now sit in front of the waterfall, surrounded by the forest. His qi formed a new cycle with the forest, that breathed in and out the qi he emitted and that dissipated. Han Lingyun also maintained the previous qi cycle he had created with the waterfall, only he didn't need to imagine himself under the waterfall anymore. The humidity of the air achieved the same effect now.

At this point, Han Lingyun should have overtaken the 5th grade talents in cultivation speed. Everything was heading to the right direction as he continued to cultivate and study arrays.

As other disciples frequented the forest, Han Lingyun's new cultivation method didn't remain unnoticed. The 3rd ranked disciple using a disregarded training ground raised some eyebrows and for a time, more disciples experienced cultivating in the peaceful forest.

Ever since the last disciple rankings and Captain Lacroix's speech, the mood had noticeably shifted among the 2nd years. A wave of seriousness had swept the disciples that had entered a new phase in their cultivation journey. The untamed excitement had died down and many settled down to focus on their cultivation.

 

Meanwhile, the 1st years' village was facing great changes. The timeline of events and the dynamics didn't resemble what happened during the previous year.

Jia Jingguo was the only 5th grade talent this time and already had a great proficiency with the trident, his clan's traditional weapon. This led to the situation where he didn't have any true opponents and the gap kept increasing. It was Jia Jingguo and the rest. The situation of the first and second brackets were much less fixed than during Han Lingyun's year. It had become a great honor to challenge Jia Jingguo and last more than an instant.

Jia Jingguo thus had to defeat at least 5 disciples every month, unlike his major Wei Muchen that mostly remained as an untouchable adversary in the eyes of other disciples of his promotion.

 

Some extortion and fights began in the mid-table after a trimester when disciples found out the potential of crystals. Small groups and gangs soon emerged but the highest ranked disciples mostly remained out of the conflicts.

That was before Jia Jingguo instituting his own force. Those that wanted to join Jia Jingguo's group were screened and tested extensively. Only the ones that would most likely not abuse their power were accepted in the ranks of Jingguo's team.

Very quickly, Jia Jingguo had his own little regiment, managed to crack down on disciple crimes and ruled over the 1st years disciples. This arrangement didn't please everyone as his little government demanded a small tax for the service they provided. However, there was more grumbling than any real resistance. Jia Jingguo was quite fair with his power and the atmosphere in the village had improved under his involvement. More importantly, no one was strong enough to oppose him and his regiment.

 

In this healthier and more competitive environment, Han Lingyun's minor Ye Wenyan had initially lost ground in the rankings as his cultivation fell behind other 4th grade talents. He had slowly started climbing back up in the last 2 months and was now in 32nd place.

Ye Wenyan didn't really have any friends but at least he had found himself some training partners. He loved to exchange saber moves with disciples that shared his interest to the weapon. Ye Wenyan noticed with time that he would cultivate better after training and sparring with his saber.

As a result, Ye Wenyan allocated even more time to his saber which also improved his moves with the help of saber instructors, in a positive feedback loop. He marveled at all their moves as he felt that the instructors approached some sort of perfection through their saber arts. Ye Wenyan soon came to the realization that the saber would be his future path. It wasn't just because he used this weapon before arriving to the sect, far from it. In Ye Wenyan's eyes, the saber exuded a beauty that none of the other weapon could replicate. He loved its feeling to the touch, the movements it brought, the wildness that the gently curved blade was hiding.

Every once in a while, Ye Wenyan would think back to his trip with Han Lingyun to market road and his transformation since then. Han Lingyun had a powerful impact on his cultivation path and he had started to slightly idolize his major.

How was Han Lingyun faring among the 2nd years?

 

 

Time continued to tick down inexorably, summer then autumn came and went as winter once again fell on the school.

On this cold evening, Han Lingyun was contemplating the array formations he would be using in combat.

For the 2nd years as a whole, there hadn't been a whole lot of notable events in the last 8 months.

Wang Yimo had reached mid qi condensation after the ranking competition of the 6th month and Han Lingyun followed soon afterwards, which greatly surprised Wang Yimo. He had stayed less time in early qi condensation than her! This helped Han Lingyun maintain his place in the first bracket without facing too many challenges.

If there was one event that many still talked about, it was Yu Tao breaking through qi condensation before the 9th month's ranking competition. He then challenged back and defeated one by one all those that had challenged him in the last 3 competitions. Win after win took him back to the 1st bracket where he stopped his duels. Those that waited for another confrontation between Wei Muchen and Yu Tao were disappointed, it seemed that Yu Tao wanted to keep hidden cards for the Sun Alliance competition.

 

In other news related to Han Lingyun, the shu family had its usual meeting and Ye Wenyan was introduced to his seniors. This time the banquet was a lot less pompous as the inner disciples didn't make an appearance. It was still a pleasant time and a much more relaxed evening.

Han Lingyun, Shen Lin and Wang Haoyu had also accomplished a mission together to collect some precious herbs that had been spotted near a group of magic beasts named rock lizards. It had been a great time for the 3 of them as they bonded with their work. Sometimes cultivation was a lonely process and breaks came as appreciated breathers.

Finally, Wang Yimo and Han Lingyun had a third duel which he won by surprising her with an attack formation he had received from the Array Pavilion. Placing and using these formations didn't require too much knowledge at that level, but such formations were extremely rare and expensive for the average cultivator.

These events were the only punctuations during Han Lingyun's rather monotonous last 8 months, it was a calm period he enjoyed.

 

However, for the 2nd year disciples, the Sun Alliance competition was approaching fast. It was now two weeks before the end of the school year. The teachers and elders had increased significantly the pressure on the disciples during the last half year.

Fewer disciples had been taking the safest missions, preferring to use that time to cultivate or challenge themselves with potentially dangerous endeavors.

When the 2nd year disciples were all summoned to the nearest plaza, Han Lingyun counted 640 disciples. 41 had passed away during that intensive year but the toll wasn't as heavy as for the 1st years.

Disciples at this age had gained a better general awareness than first years and were better equipped in skills. Some would also say that the trash had already been weeded out to some extent

Back then, the initiation ceremony also contributed significantly to 1st year's disciples' death toll. For 2nd years, the tragic accidents were mostly the result of disciples taking too many risks under this high-pressure environment.

 

Captain Lacroix stood in front of the disciples, examining them carefully with her piercing gaze. Han Lingyun's felt as though all his secrets were seen through: from his cultivation to his hidden sentiments.

This long silence was interrupted by a distant eagle cry. The disciples looked up to be greeted by an incredible sight that awed the group.

Nearly a hundred giant white eagles were rapidly approaching and descended from the skies. As they landed one by one, it became apparent that a core formation elder was standing on every one of them. A wave of excitement spread among the disciples as they anticipated the grandiose opportunity to fly on those magic beasts.

Starting from the 640th rank, the 2nd years were called one at a time to climb on one the eagles. Groups of 10 were assigned to one elder and a giant eagle before taking off and circling the air above the remaining disciples.

 

This made for a scene that grew more and more impressive with every new giant eagle taking flight. Han Lingyun wondered of what all that power of magic beasts and elders could unleash. The White Tiger School was definitely preparing a show of force for their arrival at the meeting location.

As Captain Lacroix took the register, this was the occasion for the disciples to look back at this year and the evolutions in the rankings.

When it became the turn for the top 11 ranked disciples, they were only grouped in pairs of 2. Those would be at the forefront of the disciples to represent the colors of the White Tiger School.

"11- Qin Tengfei

10- Qi Bo

9- Shen Lin

8- Qin Mei

7- Lai Meihui

6- Liao Zhenzhen

5- Liao Shao

4- Yu Tao

3- Han Lingyun

2- Wang Yimo

And finally, rank 1 Wei Muchen will be our flag bearer."

 

Wei Muchen had the honor to board the largest eagle with an old man affectionately petting it. This was a nascent soul expert! One Han Lingyun had never seen before.

 

Meanwhile, Han Lingyun smiled as the elder he joined on the eagle was none other than Elder Wen. As a likely candidate to enter the next realm, Elder Wen's position had risen sharply in the sect and it was no fluke that he transported the 2nd and 3rd ranked disciples. It is also reasonable to infer that Elder Wen pulled some strings to make sure he was paired with his protégé.

 

The eagles reorganized in a triangular formation and soon disappeared to the horizon. The White Tiger Sect was coming and it was making a statement.

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