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The Sun Empire and its population of 2 billion was home to 16 great sects, one for each of its 16 regions. But these main sects were only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds if not thousands of smaller sects gravitated around the 16 leading sects.

A large portion of their disciples were those that failed to qualify during the main sects’ recruitments, the rest were found from the flurry of local villages and small towns that were left out by bigger sects. All these sects were part of the Sun Cultivation Alliance or SCA as it was often referred to.

Conflicts between sects were mostly monitored or handled by powerful cultivators from the big sects. A great sect among the 16 giants couldn’t go to war with another great sect, or it would face reprisal from all the other members of the alliance. It was generally acknowledged that the 16 sects all had their say regarding their respective regions and the others shouldn’t meddle.

Still, it wasn’t a loose Alliance in name only. An organization was created to supervise and enforce large policies over the Sun Cultivation Alliance, named the Sun Council. Representatives from different sects were selected to a seat at the Council for the decision making. The number of seats per sect was defined by the verified strength of each sect, and this would be updated every decade. The competition between sect disciples also played a role in seat attribution, even if there were no precise guidelines for it.

A small sect that somehow managed to birth a great talent would likely gain a seat at the Council, and the results of the 16 sects always formed an impression about their state and future, affecting the seats to an extent.

The Sun Alliance wasn’t only militaristic: it promoted free trade, standardized the use of qi crystals and regulated the number of crystals in the market. Some Empire wide organizations have flourished in the last 5 centuries such as the Golden Dragon Merchant Group, the Blooming Sun Group which is a pill manufacturer, the Night Lotus Auction House, or the War Treasure Pavilion franchise to mention a few.

 

The annual competition of young disciples was a grand occasion for the multitude of sect’s being part of the SCA to trade, showcase one’s might and to finalize important talks between sects.

For every region, a dozen sects would be sending disciples. Some had already been doing competitions and selections with smaller sects that then sent the strongest participants together.

In the end, more than 200 different sects were represented every year. All the smaller sects combined had perhaps 10 times more disciples than the 16 strongest sects but most of these disciples only had a grade 1 or 2 talent and didn’t fare well in the main competition.

However, if you consider the whole group of lower ranked sects, inevitably some 4th and 5th grade would pop up, lucky picks coming from smaller settlements that hadn’t been screened by big sects. Those disciples would often be recruited in the main sects once they turned 16 anyway and revealing their talent served as another objective of the annual gathering. From the point of view of such a disciple, joining a stronger sect was to follow the best training and maximize their chances to reach greater cultivation heights.

The small sects uncovering these talents would also be rewarded in compensation and were glad that one of them could one day have a say in a more powerful sect. If that disciple ever grew up to become a strong cultivator, he could reveal himself to be a powerful helper.

Even with some surprises from time to time, the highest ranks were trusted by the disciples of the 16 main sects.

From least to most seats occupied on the SCA council, those 16 sects were:

-16th: Peach blossom island

-15th: Eastern Warriors Temple

-14th: Illusion Valley

- 13th: Blood Saber Sect

-12th: Thousand Willow Sect

-11th: Qiqing Sect

-10th: Mount Ba Sword Sect

-9th: Dragon Slaying Gang

-8th: Sun and Moon Island

-7th: Northern Wudang Sect

-6th: Shaolin Sect

-5th: Five Phoenixes Plume Sect

-4th: Ugly Duck Sect

-3rd: Black Dragon Sect

-2nd: Cheng Huang School

-1st: White Tiger Sect.

 

It had come as a surprise for Han Lingyun when he learned that the White Tiger Sect had the most seats at the Council because none of what he experienced at the school felt like it would give an edge on the other main sects.

He later understood that this was mostly due to the power of the White Tiger Sect as a whole. The “school”, where mostly disciples yet to reached 16 trained, was just the antechamber of the White Tiger Sect.

What made the sect so powerful was the enormous contingent of core formation elders it accumulated, its powerful regiments of cultivators and its 7 Nascent Soul protectors (3 at the school and 4 stationed with the regiments). The White Tiger Sect boasted the greatest number of Nascent Soul cultivators and Core Formation elders among all the sects of the SCA. This had not been the case since the Alliance inception more than 5 centuries ago, but its position had steadily increased over time.

The ever-growing number of high-level cultivators attracted more and more disciples for the 16-year-old disciple selection every year.

This made Han Lingyun relativize the importance of the disciple’s competitions which should look more like games for these big fishes. In fact, historically the White Tiger School never dominated the 2nd years rankings, they were not even the favorites.

A requirement for the 16 sects was to possess at least one nascent soul cultivator. This was to avoid a civil war in a region with different sects fighting for its control. It was decided that if one of the main sects was to lose all its nascent soul protectors, that sect would be demoted from the 16 main sects and a Nascent Soul Cultivator designated by the Council would be appointed to start another sect or take over the previous one. This rule had been enforced twice since the SCA’s beginnings and it showed that the upper echelon was always what mattered the most in the end.

But this rule remained as a knife edge over the 9 sects with only 1 Nascent Soul Elder at its forefront. In fact, of the remaining sects, the Northern Wudang Sect, Shaolin Sect, Five Phoenixes Plume Sect, Ugly Duck Sect and Black Dragon Sect, only had 2 Nascent Soul cultivators, with the Cheng Huang School being the only sect with 3 of such elders.

Nurturing a disciple to become a Nascent Soul cultivator was an extremely arduous task, with only the White Tiger Sect being the anomaly with a Nascent Soul Elder seemingly popping out every 5 decades or so on average. In fact, it’s wide pool of Core Formation Elders was even more anomalous and frightening for the other powers.

In consequence, it had become some sort of tradition for the other powers of the SCA to try to restrict the White Tiger Sect during the disciples meets, as the growing power of the White Tiger Sect was becoming a threat to the equilibrium of the alliance.

 

During their journey, the 2nd years from the White Tiger Sect riding on the white eagles were joined by the group of 4th years who would have their own competition as well. The 4th years were riding their eagles alone with no elders, to pass a message about the White Tiger School disciples’ growth over time. Han Lingyun spotted his great major Zhang Fang from afar who winked back.

The mass of white eagles was heading to a sacred ground that wasn’t named, near the geographical center of the Sun Empire. It consisted of a mountain range that formed a large circle of one-hundred-kilometer radius around a lush valley in a highly unusual geological formation.

This lead many to believe this was either a crater or the result of an immensely powerful cultivator passing by. As such, the valley was unofficially referred to as “the crater”. The whole valley with the mountains surrounding it wasn’t inhabited by any mortals and wasn’t part of any of the sects’ territory. That was where the Sun Council was located and it was considered as territory of the whole alliance.

As per custom, the weaker sects would arrive first for the competition, followed by the sects with seats at the Council, and so on by ascending order of council seats. It was thus the White Tiger Sect making an appearance in last.

A cultivation city had been constructed in some corner of the valley to accommodate the more than 100 000 cultivators that were participating or attending the competitions. Thousands of cultivators watched with admiration the cloud of White Eagles appearing at the horizon. In a short time, the giant eagles were already circling over their heads in a mesmerizing spectacle before landing with huge gusts of wind.

The cultivators that were close by could see the hundred or so Core Foundation elders appearing on the eagles' backs. As the White Tiger Sect’s Elders weren’t hiding their cultivation for the entrance, all the other Core Formation cultivators could sense their absurd number and the terrifying presence at the Nascent Soul realm at the groups bow. Many had a huge fright and had drops of sweat tricking down their back. For most, this force was enough to annihilate their sect several times other, and erase any trace of their existence. Some felt this was too much: was the White Tiger Sect just participating in a disciple competition or was it going to war?

Han Lingyun struggled slightly to wrap his head around the mass of cultivators all around. 100 000 mortals represented already a huge figure, but 100 000 cultivators were truly an impressive sight. Not to mention, perhaps at least a thousand had the power to wipe out entire cities, by counting the total number of Core Formation Elders present.

 

The White Tiger Sect was presented to its accommodations. Han Lingyun had some time on his hand: he wouldn’t be starting his competition for another week during which many events would be held. Those were mostly centered around trading, showcasing power, and information gathering.

There was a competition starting tomorrow: a 2nd year ranking competition only for those that were still at the body strengthening stage. For the most part, it wasn’t taken too seriously by higher ups but there was still some honor, recognition and prizes to be obtained for the strongest contenders of that sub category.

The competition also served as a pre selection, the objective was to eliminate most of the candidates for the 2nd years’ main event, leaving only 10 000 from the initial bunch of more than 50 000 that had gathered from all parts of the SCA.

The watchers often only viewed this competition as entertainment. It was the occasion for disciples with lower talent to showcase their fighting proficiency but except perhaps one or two incredible cases, those body strengthening disciples wouldn’t make a splash during the true competition. A similar event was happening with the 4th years.

In both cases, it was considered a great humiliation for a disciple of the White Tiger School to fail to make it to the true competition.

 

Han Lingyun, just like the majority of Qi Condensation disciples didn’t pay much attention to those preliminary rounds. They were all flocking to the Grand Auction at Night Lotus House as this evening it was tailored to 2nd year disciples at the qi condensation realm.

Han Lingyun had avoided auctions at market road until now: he believed they were a loss of time and money, with higher prices for items you might not necessarily need. This one was on a whole other other level though; Han Lingyun thought this could be a fun experience and the occasion to get a first impression of their opponents.

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