By now, Han Lingyun and the disciples had received some general understandings of the other main sects.
Without any knowledge of this year’s disciples, the large favorites for the first ranks in the 2nd year competition was the Cheng Huang School. This was the sect from the region that incorporated the Sun Empire’s capital. They had a very elitist mentality and would never recruit more than 50 disciples, none of which had a talent lower than 4th grade.
If there was a 5th grade talent in the mix, he would receive loads of resources, nearly all that the sect could muster to help him. Even when there wasn’t any 5th grade talent that year, the Cheng Huang School would select a few among the 4th grade talents to shower with resources. This made those disciples strong contenders for the 1st rank of the SCA competition for second years.
That strategy was poles apart from the general philosophy of the White Tiger Sect but it did have its advantages: every year, those favored disciples would have a great chance to join the powerful sect looking over the continent from behind the scenes. Some of those disciples would find success on that larger stage and pay back their School with favors and other resources.
Compared to the other main sects of the SCA, the Cheng Huang School always had a promotion on the smaller side but historically, it hadn’t been focusing that much on only a handful of disciples two or three decades ago. This likely changed due to the increasing pressure from the White Tiger Sect.
Another remarkable side to the school was that it had a high Core Formation Elders to disciple ratio, with an additional 3 Nascent Soul cultivators to its force.
By looking down at the other sects of the top 16, there wasn’t any other standing out among the rest for the competition, and the results depended heavily on the disciples of that particular year, with different outcomes each time.
The Black Dragon Sect, 3rd ranked in terms of seats at the Council, wasn’t especially known for the strength of its young disciples. Its strength could be attributed to its wealth and close ties with the Golden Dragon Merchant group, which was originally under the Black Dragon Sect before branching out. The additional wealth had been used effectively over the years to grow a strong force of Elders.
And what about for the Ugly Duck Sect? The 4th sect in seats was certainly the most unusual one of the SCA, as its peculiar name would suggest. It preached a philosophy of absolute liberty and being unfettered to its disciples, while providing the possibility to train under extreme torment with inhuman trials.
The Ugly Duck Sect’s average disciple was quite weak and resembled more a rogue cultivator than a member of one the strongest sects of the SCA. However, every now and then, they would groom an absolute monster of a disciple. The members of the Ugly Duck Sect also often remained when they turned 16 years old, which provided a strong foundation for the sect. Many of those that had lived under that environment couldn’t get used to another more restrictive one. The disciples were perhaps the poorest of 16 sects but they took great pride in their uniqueness.
In fact, all the 16 sects had their own distinct characteristics or specialties.
That evening, disciples from the hundreds of different sects converged for a special occasion. In their midst, Han Lingyun accompanied by Wang Yimo, Shen Lin, and Yang Haoyu headed to a giant colosseum shaped building where the grand auction would be taking place.
The queue stretched for hundreds of meters for all of the 10 entrances partly because a place in the colosseum to witness the events costed only 10 low grade qi crystals. The objective was clearly to have a huge attendance for the spectacle and atmosphere. However, to be able to bid, one had to pay 1000 low grade qi crystals upfront, before even entering the venue.
Elder Wen had given Han Lingyun a black card issued by the SCA that could be exchanged for 1 million low grade crystals (or 100 high grade crystals) to play with and eventually buy something he fancied. Runic patterns shimmered on that card to ensure its authenticity. Wang Yimo also had her card while Shen Lin and Yang Haoyu were just here for the experience.
Han Lingyun and company were waiting in line like everyone else. Their White Tiger School robes solicited second looks from many disciples of the other sects but there weren’t any further interactions: their faces weren’t known yet. If those 12-year-old learned that all four where in the top 50 of the White Tiger Sect with the 2nd and 3rd ranks, they would be paying a lot more attention to the group beside them in the queue.
Han Lingyun really enjoyed to view all the different disciples’ robes around. Perhaps one of those would be an opponent in a week.
A strong voice suddenly resonated behind the line. “MAKE WAY! MAKE WAY!”
Han Lingyun couldn’t see anything from here but the crowd didn’t seem to move so he stayed in place with the rest. Soon whispers reached them, apparently a couple disciples from the Cheng Huang School wanted to skip the queue. Before a conflict could escalate, they were promptly told to calm down and stay in line by an elder from another sect. Han Lingyun found the whole scene amusing. Were those disciples from the Cheng Huang School shaped into self-entitled young masters? They might be facing a painful awakening one day.
In terms of dao heart, Han Lingyun became convinced that the White Tiger Sect was leagues above the Cheng Huang School if that was what they produced.
The four disciples reached the end of the line without any other events happening and a host greeted them. “Do you wish for each of you to have their own individual cabin or are you willing to share a private room together?”
The group looked at each other. Han Lingyun answered back. “A private room will do.”
Shen Lin interrupted Han Lingyun while pointing at Yang Haoyu. “Actually, him and I won’t be bidding so we will just take two normal spectator seats to enjoy the show.”
“Very well, follow me this way.”
Han Lingyun gave a weird look to Shen Lin and the two duos parted ways, each following their own paths.
Shen Lin only laughed back at the glance and waved goodbye. “Have fun bidding and all!”
Han Lingyun and Wang Yimo were led into a series of corridor before reaching a room that overlooked the stage and the mass of spectators, most of which were 2nd years like themselves. Private rooms and smaller cabins were encircling the action on several floors. The non bidders or those that couldn’t afford private seats were packed in tight rows which created a bustling atmosphere that was heating up as the places were filled. It was as if the spectators were going to assist to an epic duel rather than a simple auction. There would be tens of thousands of spectators that night.
Han Lingyun was a bit disappointed to notice that all the rooms were absolutely confidential, thwarting his plans to gain a first impression of some possible competitors. Their guide informed them that formations prevented any communications between cabins and the exterior, and all bids would be done through a counter at the front.
It was impossible to see the inside of the other cabins as some type a blurred glass obstructed the vision and qi probes. In addition, sound was contained in the cabins making it useless to shout out anything from inside while the exterior was perfectly heard.
All these measures were made to avoid anyone using threats and intimidation tactics to scare off other bidders which would always plague auctions in the cultivation world, and lower the auctioneer’s profit. The Night Lotus Auction House also realized that not knowing anything about one’s bidding opponents didn’t stop cultivators from competing with each other in ego battles. In the end, this arrangement satisfied nearly everyone as it enabled cultivators to remain anonymous after winning one of the items.
In addition, the auction would only be taking bids in qi crystals and would not be accepting other treasures for compensation. This was to prevent any frauds or delays due to appraisal times. If a bidder failed to pay after winning an item, he would be kicked out and banned from the auction while the bids for that item would restart with the next highest bid.
The bidders were not restricted to the 2nd years, even if this category represented the targeted clients for this evening auction, with items tailored for their level. Bidders would range from the rich and favored disciples of the different sects, but also 4th year disciples that weren’t among the very best of their age group, or elders that fancied a treasure for a disciple. Some merchants were present as well to survey the price trends and just in case they could pick up some bargains with an item not interesting the crowd, which wasn’t out of the question for some exotic ones or those with a specific use.
After another half hour for all the places to fill up, lights were turned off. A projector was directed to a lotus shaped stage to simulate moonlight. The show was starting and a stunning woman with delicate facial features landed on stage like a fairy descending from the heavens.
“Welcome to Night Lotus House’s Grand Auction for 2nd year disciples. My name is Hou Xifeng and I was entrusted by Senior Enlai to introduce the items as I have dutifully done in the past. The older should recognize me from the previous years and you can trust my professionalism.”
In the spectators stand, Yang Haoyu found that introduction slightly intriguing, why was she discussing her qualifications? Was she secretly feeling insecure or something?
Seeing his friends profound gaze, Shen Lin chuckled and hit Yang Haoyu with his right elbow. “Brother, don’t be misled by her appearance, to be hosting the auction, this Hou Xifeng is probably a century old hag with high cultivation.”
“Hey, I wasn’t…”
“No need to embarrass yourself brother Haoyu, your face isn’t lying.”
“I was just feeling that her presentation was odd.” Yang Haoyu protested.
Meanwhile in the closed room, Wang Yimo was pinching Han Lingyun’s right arm which made him jolt out of his staring. He felt a bit indignant about being bullied like that. “Hey what was that for?”
Wang Yimo didn’t respond and just crossed her arms while purposefully looking at the stage.
Han Lingyun swallowed back his sentence and feigned to focus back on the spectacle as well.
Some in the crowd were not that timid though. Someone had stood up and yelled from the mass of non-bidding cultivators. “Hou Xifeng, please marry me and become my dao companion!”
This solicited many laughs from disciples massed around the stage. Thousands of gazes landed on a 14-year-old youth.
The fairy took a suggestive pause. “So, its disciple Qi Chang from Illusion Valley! I am sorry to disappoint you by admitting that you are not really my type. You see, my ideal partner would preferably have big pockets.” She blinked while looking up at the cabins. “Perhaps in a couple years I might be interested little Chang.”
Another roar of laughter resonated in the audience. The singled-out Qi Chang sat back down, red with shame. How did she even know who he was?
Han Lingyun was staring slack jawed. ‘Is Hou Xifeng trying to entice bids in such a fashion or was this just playing games?’
Not everyone in the audience was finding this amusing though and the loud voice of an Elder interrupted the laughs. “Miss Xifeng, can we move on to the actual auction?”
She put on a bright smile. “Ah, its Qin Jiaoji of the Eastern Warriors Temple, so the rumors on your bad temper were true. But don’t worry, here is the first item!”