When the four arrived, they could see a group of people standing before a platform that had a single pillar. Beside the platform stood a middle-aged looking man.
“Hello, fellow cultivators. As you know, this is the preliminary trial for selection assessment. Those who can strike with 2,000 jin of force or more will pass. The higher your striking force, the better your chance of being selected.”
The audience had all gained knowledge on this prior to coming here, so there were no questions.
“Without further delay, we’ll start the measurements.”
After saying this, the man started to call out names, one by one.
Feeling that something was strange, Hei turned to Fang Ren and asked:
“Why is there only one pillar? Wouldn’t this go faster with more pillars?”
He was curious as to why there was only one pillar. In a test like this, where there was a clearly displayed measurement, you could speed up the process by having multiple pillars and having multiple people go up at the same time.
“It is to show others what they are up against. Some people will come to the selection having hopes that they will be accepted, but when they can see similarly aged people performing much better than them, they often give up, which saves time in the further trials.”
Hei could understand this point. It was like how many people would enter a store without any intention of buying things. While the store usually wouldn’t complain, it could lead to staff being unable to properly attend to actual customers.
If they were to allow people to understand that they were only wasting their own, and other people’s time, they would leave on their own, without any resentment.
“Of course, they are still allowed to observe the trials. It is always possible that they will be inspired to work harder so that they may improve themselves. After all, there’s still a little over two and a half years until the 5-sect summit.”
“Mm. That’s pretty cool.”
It was interesting that the Fang Clan operated this way. It was almost like they weren’t willing to let go of the hidden gems. They wanted to maintain an image of the friendly clan that only wants to help.
After watching many people go up, most of which had measurements of 8,000 – 17,000 jin, the middle-aged man called for Tianlan.
“Next is Shao Tianlan.”
“Looks like I’m up.”
Tianlan loosened up his shoulders a little as he was saying this.
Hei spoke to him as he was walking.
“There’s no need to do too much. We’ll take Sister Ren’s advice on this one.”
Fang Ren didn’t quite know what Hei was saying, but she didn’t ask.
Tianlan got up onto the stage and casually launched a palm attack.
The middle-aged man was surprised for a moment before he said:
“Good. 20,000 jin. Next is Shao Hei.”
The audience grew a little restless. They could tell that Tianlan was quite young compared to most of them who were 15 – 17 years old.
Fang Ren was also surprised.
“Didn’t you guys say you were in the body refining realm?”
Hei responded as he walked towards the stage.
As he passed by Tianlan, He gave him a high five and said:
“Nice control there.”
Hei then walked up to the stage, and like Tianlan, let out a casual palm.
The middle-aged man was stunned. Judging from Hei’s appearance, he was even younger than the previous boy. Probably…
“20,000 jin. Next is Shao Bai.”
The audience was stirred again. For two people to consecutively hit 20,000 jin and for them to look so young, lit a fire under them.
Fang Ren was swirling in confusion. She turned to Bai and Tianlan.
“You are really body refining realm?”
“Our body refining realm is unmatched in the world.”
She then walked up to the stage.
As she passed Hei, she said:
“I’m surprised you didn’t break the pillar, Brother.”
“Hey! I’ve been working hard on my control. At least we know you won’t be breaking it.”
Hei said this as he rubbed her head.
Bai went up to the stage and did the same as her brothers.
“20,000… It’s 20,000 jin.”
The middle-aged man was having a hard time believing this. When did three kids like this show up in Spring Leaf City? Which experts were playing around in disguise?
To make sure that the pillar wasn’t giving erroneous results, he struck it himself.
This let him confirm that those three kids, were all able to hit 20,000 jin.
When Bai got back to the group, she was met with Fang Ren’s blank stare.
“You’re really all in the body refining realm?”
“No matter how many times you ask, the answer is the same.”
Fang Ren remained silent for a while.
Seeing this, Hei decided to ask about the following assessments.
Fang Ren described that the next test would be a bone age test. This was the measurement of a cultivator’s age using their bones. Simple disguise techniques would be unable to fool this method of assessment.
The result of the age test would be combined with the score from the measuring pillar, to produce a talent value. If this value was above a certain point, the cultivator would pass through to the combat round.
Bai had something to ask about this.
“What if you have an older cultivator who didn’t start their practice until a short while ago?”
If the talent value was just strength/age then there would be cases where someone came across some good fortune which finally allowed them to surpass their limitations, granting them a great amount of potential, but since their age was too high, their talent value would be low.
She had asked this because of the stories Hei had told her of how many individuals who had no potential, stumbled across something that changed their lives. If one of them were to come to the Fang Clan the day after such an encounter, their striking force would be low for their age. As such, they wouldn’t pass through the second round.
Fang Ren responded.
“There is an appeal system in place for those kinds of cases. It’s just that not many people use it. Plus, it’s hard to prove. Unless there is a compelling reason, most of the time they just return for another attempt when their strength catches up.”
“It’s even harder still because those who perform well in the 5-sect summit tend to be the younger ones, so they have a higher chance of being selected.”
“Oh? Does the 5-sect summit have a similar system for measuring talent?”
“It is similar, but the strength measuring part is different. Instead of measuring pillars, they use actual combat.”
The three were interested in this. Striking at pillars was practical, but it wasn’t very fun.
“Now that we’re on the topic, what are your ages?”
Fang Ren was curious to find out the ages of her three potential friends. She had known of youth maintenance techniques, so she didn’t make assumptions based on their appearances, but she felt that they were quite young.
Tianlan answered first.
“I’m 12 years old.”
“Oh? Same as me.”
Fang Ren was also 12 years old. This was great. They were similarly aged to her and even though they had lied to her about being in the body refining realm, she was still excited.
She wasn’t too shocked to hear Tianlan was only 12 years old.
While it may be impressive for a rogue cultivator to have strength equivalent to the peak of the externalisation realm at 12 years old, in the Fang Clan, you could find a decent amount of them.
The real challenge started when one tried to break into the internalisation realm.
After Tianlan, Hei answered.
Fang Ren stared with her eyes wide.
“That… Only the Dual Polarities could match that!”
Hei was intrigued by the term.
Fang Ren immediately placed her hand over her mouth. She remembered that the clan was trying to keep those two geniuses a secret.
Hei could see that she had made a mistake.
“Don’t worry if you’re not allowed to say, we’ll just act like it never happened.”
Fang Ren let out a sigh of relief. She didn’t want to ruin her chance of making new friends by refusing to answer should they press her, but she absolutely could not betray her clan.
Fang Ren then realised something. When the three had introduced themselves, they had said that Bai was the youngest.
She turned to Bai.
Bai raised her hand signalling the number 5.
“F-F-Five? How could you be at the peak of externalisation at 5 years old?”
Fang Ren could feel her knees weakening. How long has it been since you awakened your spirit roots? Peak of externalisation realm? There is a limit to jokes!
“But we already told you, we’re not in the externalisation realm.”
Fang Ren had to take a deep breath to calm herself down.
She had realised that her potential friends liked to exaggerate.
Body refining realm? As if!
5 years old? Get out of here!
The three looked to each other awkwardly. It seemed this girl wouldn’t believe them no matter what they said.
Fang Ren was having trouble staying on her feet.
“You must be joking with me. What are your real ages?”
“I suppose you can wait to find out. It looks like the next assessment is about to begin.”
Noticing all of the people moving, Bai guessed that the next assessment was about to begin.
“R-Right. This way then.”
Fang Ren led the way.
“What is this?”
“Even the youngest one hits 20,000 jin?”
“How can this be?”
“It must be a joke. They probably had someone rig the test for them.”
“But why would they do that?”
“I have no idea.”
“Unless those damn brats really did discover us.”
“That’s also possible.”
“We can only keep watch for now. Move out!”
After the four arrived at the location of the second assessment, they watched as people went up one by one to have their ages measured.
This time there was a stone tablet that the cultivators would place their hands on. It would glow, and after a while, their age would appear on it.
So far it had been about a 50% elimination rate.
One cultivator actually made an appeal this time.
It was a 10-year-old boy who had discovered an inheritance in the Spring Leaf Forest and apparently had only been cultivating for a few months.
At first, it looked like he was going to be eliminated, but a young lady of the Fang Clan spoke up for him and helped him to have his appeal accepted. He passed on to the next round.
Fang Ren seemed to know a little bit about the situation.
Apparently, the young boy had helped the young lady somehow and she had him come back to the clan with her, where he decided to participate in the selection.
Hearing this, Hei decided to pay a little more attention to the boy. He was getting strong MC vibes from the story.
To his annoyance, he noticed that the boy would turn to their direction every now and then. At first, he thought it was just by chance, but then he started to have the thought that the boy was looking at Bai.
‘It will be the worst mistake you ever make.’
Hei directed a few malicious gases at the boy, which seemed to work. He avoided looking in this direction from that point onward.
“Next is Shao Tianlan.”
Tianlan walked forward without hesitation. He went up to the stage and placed his hand on the stone tablet. After a while, it reported 12.
“Mm. 12 years old. You pass. Next is Shao Hei.”
Fang Ren felt a bad feeling.
“12 years old? And both of you are younger?”
Hei turned to her and gave a smile but didn’t say anything as he walked forward.
When he got on the stage, he placed his hand on the stone tablet and after a while, it reported 7.
“7 years old!”
Not only the middle-aged man, but everyone was surprised. They all remembered the 20,000 trio. Think that one of them was so young.
“It looks like we have discovered a real talent this time. You pass. Next is Shao Bai.”
Even the middle-aged man had some excitement when he said this. Only the two young geniuses of the clan could compare to Hei. If Bai was of similar age, they would have really benefited greatly by holding this recruitment.
Fang Ren’s jaw dropped.
She turned to look at Bai.
That was all she could say.
At this rate, Bai was actually 5 years old, and it was probably true that they were in the body refining realm.
How could a clan that no one had ever heard of have such a profound body refining technique?
Bai chose to ignore Fang Ren and walked up to the stage. She placed her hand on the stone tablet, and after a while, it reported 5.
The middle-aged man was shocked beyond belief.
He turned to another person and said:
“Report this immediately.”
The other person immediately left.
While everyone was in an uproar, Bai returned to the group.
The middle-aged man noticed this.
Fang Ren was already on the floor. She couldn’t believe what was happening right now.
The three were feeling awkward watching her.
“Come now, Sister Ren. Is it that big of a deal? We told you all of this already.”
Hei said this as he helped Fang Ren get back on her feet.
Fang Ren was having difficulty processing this.
“You’re really in the body refining realm?”
The middle-aged man got a response from the person he had sent out earlier.
He saw that the three had gone over to Fang Ren after the trial, so he went over with a smile.
“Ren’er, did you invite these three friends to the trial today?”
Fang Ren was surprised to hear the name ‘Ren’er’. Since when had the clan elders treated her so intimately?
She was about to refute when Hei stepped in.
“That’s right. Sister Ren’er came to our family bakery and when she saw us sparring, she suggested that we should come and give the assessment a try.”
The middle-aged man nodded in approval.
“Ren’er, you truly have good eyes, the clan shall reward you appropriately. Now come, all of you. The matriarch would like to see you.”
‘Hehe. Unexpected gains.’
The three looked at each other and understood what they had to do.
Tianlan spoke first.
“It’s about time. We’ve been here for half a day and she only now sends people to greet us?”
Hei followed up.
“Mm. Perhaps we have been too low key these past few months.”
Bai spoke after Hei.
“Now don’t be too upset, brothers. I’m sure the matriarch has a lot on her plate.”
Hei then came in for the close.
“That better be the case. Having to play with these fellows was getting boring. Lead the way, my good man.”
He said this as he was already starting to walk.
The middle-aged man was stunned for a moment. Why did they make it seem like this was no big deal? Wouldn’t most people be shaking in excitement at the chance to meet the matriarch?
After remembering his orders, he quickly led the way.
After walking a few steps, Hei noticed something.
He turned around.
“Sister Ren’er. Don’t you want to come?”
Fang Ren was snapped out of her daze by Hei’s words. She quickly caught up with the group and followed them as they headed to the reception hall.
“Damn this! A direct audience with the matriarch?”
“And did you see how they seemed to be expecting it?”
“Mm. It was as if they had decided to participate in the selection on a whim.”
“This is a big problem.”
“We have to report this immediately.”
The four were led to a beautiful hall.
Fang Ren was excited. She had never been to this hall before, as it was used to greet important guests.
The hall was filled with clan elders, and at the end of the hall, seated upon a throne, was the Fang Clan matriarch.
The three were surprised at how young she looked and her authoritative aura.
The elder that brought them here led in the greeting. He cupped his fist toward her, bowed and exclaimed:
“Greetings to the matriarch.”
Fang Ren also did this.
The three were caught off guard. They had never had to make a formal greeting like this since they were born. Hei had made such greetings to his mother but it had been seven years since then.
They quickly cupped their fists, but didn’t bow as they said:
“Greetings to the Fang Clan matriarch.”
The matriarch and elders noticed that the three didn’t bow. They felt weird about it but assumed that it was due to a poor upbringing, so they didn’t call them out on it.
The matriarch responded.
“There is no need to stand on ceremony. Rise.”
Fang Ren and the middle-aged man stood straight again.
“The four of you may take a seat.”
The matriarch pointed to four seats, surrounded by elders.
The three didn’t quite feel comfortable with the arrangement.
‘A power play? Are they trying to suppress us? Heh.’
Hei could feel that the Fang Clan was trying to stifle them a little in order to get cooperation from a bunch of kids who didn’t know any better.
The three reluctantly sat down, Fang Ren beside them.
The matriarch then spoke.
“Do you know why I have called you over?”
“Um… Responding to the Fang Clan matriarch. We do not know.”
“Mm. There is no need for formalities. You can speak freely.”
‘The old rope a dope.’
Hei could see what was happening here. The matriarch was giving them an illusion of having their own choice but was actually trying to manipulate them.
It was simple. I’ll suppress you, but I’ll make you believe that I’m doing everything I can to make you feel comfortable. Once your guard is down, I’ll go in for the kill.
‘To be fair, maybe she actually means it.’
Hei decided to take her up on the offer. It would mess up any kind of mind games if that’s what she was planning.
The matriarch responded with a smile. It was very warm and welcoming.
Hei leaned back in his seat and with a relaxed voice he said:
“OK. So why did you bring us here?”
A few of the elder’s mouths twitched. Wasn’t this a little disrespectful to the matriarch? She said you could speak freely, but most people would still be formal.
The matriarch was also a little surprised by the sudden change.
After a short pause, she responded.
“It’s quite simple. Join my Fang Clan.”