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Before leaving and heading back to cultivate, Han Lingyun still had some questions left.

“Teacher Wen, do you know anything about that guest that provided the Black Talent Pill and the Deep Abyss sword?”

Elder Wen’s face darkened a little. “This touches information far above your level…”

Before Han Lingyun could say anything else, Elder Wen raised a hand to interrupt him. The elder then placed down flags around the room and activated several formations to avoid any prying ears. Han Lingyun had never seen him take such precautions and immediately straightened up.

“… But since you ask, I’ll give you a brief answer as long as you don’t speak of it to anyone else.”

“I will follow teacher’s commands.”

“Hum, I trust you. So, have you heard of Black Rainbow Sect?”

“Is it that powerful sect that is somehow controlling the continent from the shadows?” Han Lingyun remembered some information Wang Yimo had once divulged to him under the stars.

“Yes and no.” Elder Wen corrected him. “The Black Rainbow Sect could be considered the overlords of our planet. But they are not ‘controlling the continent from the shadows’ as you say. They don’t rule the continent simply by lack of interest, you see the Black Rainbow sect occupies a whole other continent by itself, known as the ‘Central Island’. The Black Rainbow sect is easily capable of conquering and ruling our continent but it seems to be satisfied by the current affairs of the Edera continent and doesn’t wish to directly administer it. They only recruit the most promising disciples when they turn 16.

Now the Black Rainbow sect isn’t a completely unified sect either, it isn’t as peaceful as our White Tiger Sect. Over the years, two factions with radically different philosophies have emerged. Those two factions are respectively known as the “Black” and the “Rainbow” factions. As I understand, to caricature, the Rainbow faction advocates for laissez faire and diversity of the cultivation world, while the Black faction defends a philosophy of ‘natural selection’ and cold efficiency in the cultivation world, where the weak are naturally weeded out by the strong.

Now to come back to the guest, as you should have understood by now, with the items presented, it is certainly an Elder of the Black Rainbow Sect, and more specifically from the Black faction. His actions should be to leave a message, ‘I will be present at the ranking competitions.’”

Elder Wen looked concerned. He took a long breath. “For you and the other disciples, that means bad news.”

“What do you mean, teacher?”

“The competition won’t be a peaceful one where Elders prevent terrible injuries. This time, I am certain that disciples will die.”

Han Lingyun was alarmed. “Is it frequent for Black faction elders to preside the SCA competitions?”

“No. Okay that’s enough information for now. You are warned so go calm yourself down and prepare well for the competitions.”

 

Han Lingyun came back to his cultivation room with a somber look. On his way, he passed by his two friends places and only spoke a few words. “Be careful for next week. Prepare well.” Shen Lin and Yang Haoyu weren’t stupid, seeing his face and through his words, they understood that something had changed for the competition.

Just like Han Lingyun, Wang Yimo and other top ranked disciples of different sects received words of warnings and briefs explanations. This time around, the competition would not be a simple game.

 

Since that auction, the atmosphere had taken a strange turn. It was still festive but there was a lot more tension in the air. Those that knew kept silent but those not in the know could sense the changes as well. To the shock of many cultivators, on the following days the elders stopped preventing injuries and deaths during the fights. The dynamics of the competition reserved for body strengthening cultivation changed drastically.

At the same time, the few disciples that managed to emerge from the mass received a lot more praise and attention. They became momentary heroes for their respective sects.

Under that double sided atmosphere, in between exultation and sorrows, the rankings for body strengthening cultivators came to a close.

The White Tiger Sect had shone brightly on this occasion. It must be said, other than putting a great emphasis on foundation and duels, the school has also confronted its disciples to life and death from the beginning. When they faced youths that had yet to lose their immaturity and potentially put their lives on the lines, the White Tiger Sect disciples had a great advantage.

Of course, many disciples, especially in the major sects had also suffered from similar types of intensive training, some even bloodier. A prime example was The Eastern Warriors Temple.

 

Feasts and tears intermingled at the end of the week. A black rainbow had descended on the SCA and engulfed the competitions.

 

The following day, 10 000 2nd year disciples were lined up with their respective sects on an immense plaza. They were waiting in silence and tension. The only sounds came from the robes flapping under the cold morning wind.

A member of the SCA council made an appearance in front of the thousands of massed disciples.

“The 10 000 of you will be spread out randomly in a huge testing ground, that is controlled and supervised by a giant array. Before entering, you will be receiving two tokens. One white and one black.

When you circulate qi into your white token, a barrier will take shape to protect you but you will be immediately disqualified. An elder will send you out of the testing ground and you will leave your Black Token behind.

A Black Token always has a number of points on it, and everyone starts with 1 point. If you obtain another Black Token, put it above your own token in that position and listen for a click. The one with the lowest number will disintegrate and the points will add up.

Here is a simple example for the slowest of you lot. You have a black token with 5 points and obtain another black token with 7 points. The 5-point-token disintegrates and you now have a black token with 12 points.

A token doesn’t belong to one person. You can continue to stay in the testing ground if you lose your black token and can try to obtain another one. As long as the white token isn’t activated, you are not disqualified.

Live ranks will be held according to the highest points on a Black Token in your possession. This first phase of the rankings will come to an end when only 512 tokens or only 512 disciples remain. If at 512 remaining tokens, there are more than 512 disciples, the ones without one will be elminiated too.

The second phase will be duels with the 1st facing the 512th, the 2nd facing the 511th and so on, you get it. It will then be in a traditional elimination bracket with winners facing winners until only one disciple remains.

Your weapons and other tools have already been screened. After you enter the array, everything you do is permitted. But let me warn you, just because there are no rules doesn't mean you should turn into barbarians. Think for an instant, what will happen if you anger a Core Foundation Elder from another sect by killing his disciple? I’m sure your own sect would be glad to hand you over as a show of goodwill.

Nothing is forbidden but actions always have consequences.

Finally, there will be important rewards for those that finish in the top 64 of the final competition rankings so try your best to qualify, we will fill you on the details of the rewards at the end of the competition only. Just keep in mind that the rewards will be worth as much as last year’s rewards, at the very least.

That’s all.”

This vague statement didn’t entice the disciples too much but it was made on purpose. The type of rewards shouldn’t influence the proceedings. In any case, all the disciples would also receive a different treatment in their own sect depending on their performance at the competition.

Thousands of elders accompanying their disciples were hovering in the air outside the array. They would not be able to intervene but would be able to watch everything happening in the array formation. For the competition, another group of Elders under the SCA flag were stationed in the formation for the proceedings.

 

Han Lingyun gave a last look to Shen Lin, Yan Haoyu and Wang Yimo before slotting into the long line of disciples heading towards the formation.

‘So, killing is possible. Elder Wen has warned me but I still can’t wrap my head around it. Those Black Faction monsters are sick in the head. We have only begun our cultivation journey yet they don’t mind sacrificing some of the continent’s greatest talents, for what? Those might not be the ones going further on the path of cultivation in the end. Anyway, there is no point losing hair over this. Like a lonely boat in the storm, I just need to stay afloat, even if I’m not able to control the direction the boat is heading to. *Sigh* I’ll have to take my fate into my own hands at some point. At least the path ahead is obvious.’

After using the time spent waiting in line to reorganize his thoughts, Han Lingyun straightened his back. The formation was just in front of him. ‘It begins.’

 

As soon as he entered, Han Lingyun’s vision turned completely dark. He could sense that he was transported away. In fact, all the disciples were randomly spread out.

After an incense stick worth of time, his vision suddenly came back. This marked the beginning of the competition. Han Lingyun rapidly scanned his surroundings: he was in a bushy environment with a couple small trees here and there. Tall dry grass covered a hilly terrain. Han Lingyun hadn’t started moving when he saw several colored smoke bombs and other visual signals light up the sky. At the same time, he was hearing distant explosions with precise pauses.

These were the different types of signals disciples were using to group themselves with others of the same sect. At the same time, those using this method were taking risks by revealing their position to everyone and painting a target on their back.

Han Lingyun picked a talisman he had in his pocket and rushed to the direction it pointed to. This was given to him by Wang Yimo who had a paired one. The two talismans indicated each other’s direction. Because they knew each other’s fighting style very well already, Han Lingyun and Wang Yimo had planned on working together. Plus, they had trained together in preparation for the event.

Han Lingyun kept his merger art activated to the fullest as he ran, while keeping his senses on the highest alert for ambushes. Most of the places he passed were still and frozen, only shaken by distant sounds of fighting but from time to time he would suddenly land on small groups and full-on confrontations. Han Lingyun would pass those without a pause. He managed to slip through undetected until now.

After some time, he noticed that the sky was in fact a giant dome. This formation arena was absolutely gigantic, it stretched tens of kilometers in every direction.

By then, some disciples had already tried flying in the sky but those encountered frequent ambushes coming from the ground. Therefore, not many remained in the air for long: the objective was only to survive and pass this phase after all.

A good portion of disciples made the rational decision to hide and focus on ambushing others.

 

After half an hour of careful advance, Han Lingyun made it to the scene of a devastating conflict. Trees and bushes were burned or uprooted, there were even some small craters in the ground.

There was no one left around.

A talisman similar to the one in his hands was slowly being pushed around by the wind. There was blood on it.

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A note from This_one_

Hi, I didn't expect the novel to reach so many readers and was even a bit overwhelmed. 
Thanks for all the reviews, comments and editing suggestions!

I'd like to give special thanks to Hunter8k, Elaborate and J. Davis for all the Edit suggestions.
I've probably missed some but I'll come back to check out the first 70 chapters.


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This_one_

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