The three left the Man Peak and headed over to the main sect.
They could see that a lot of juniors were heading over to the venue of the competition. These were the new disciples who had just joined the sect, as well as some of the older disciples who were interested in the competition.
On their way, they ran into Qiuyue, who was also heading to the venue, so they walked together.
She had a mischievous smile on her face.
“This is going to be interesting. Have you heard how the competition will work?”
Hei looked over to her.
“No. How is it going to work?”
“Apparently, there will be three rounds. The first will be a lecture.”
Qiuyue paused here, looking at Hei, then Jingfei, then back to Hei.
“I don’t think that one will work out for you.”
Hei was confused by this.
“Why not? Isn’t our method easy to understand?”
“Oh, it’s easy to understand alright. Too easy.”
“Mm. The juniors will most likely think it’s too simple. Something that doesn’t actually inform one of anything and instead, seeks to provide a general idea of the concepts.”
Hei looked to Jingfei.
It was true. The only way Jingfei knew how to explain herself was using the strange language of friends and lonely formations.
‘Sigh. Why couldn’t it be Senior Sister Qiuyue who had asked me for help?’
Hei was thinking about how this problem wouldn’t have existed had Qiuyue been the one at the 5-sect summit. The way she understood formations was closer to the common teachings.
He turned back to Qiuyue.
“What are the other rounds?
“There’s the identification round, and the demonstration round. Both of these are kind of a tossup.”
“Identification? To recognise formations?”
“Mm. From what I’ve heard, Elder Ping has invited other elders, who will display a number of formations, and each participant is to identify them.”
“I see. And the demonstration round?”
“It should be both participants making the best formation possible given controlled resources, and a similar earth node layout.”
Hei smiled at this. He could see how the competition would go.
The first round would go to Elder Ping, the second round would most likely be a draw, and the final round would probably go to Elder Ping. After all, she had invited other elders. They were likely to become an ‘impartial panel’.
At that point, the competition would be declared Elder Ping’s victory, and Hei would have to hand over his techniques.
But Hei wasn’t going to let Elder Ping have her way. He was already preparing to turn the tables.
“There shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll take our merit points without issue.”
Qiuyue was slightly hesitant.
As the moment, she had yet to transfer her merit points over to Jingfei’s identity token. Knowing that the first round was essentially lost, she was wondering whether this would all work out.
She could get out now without having taken any loss, or she could play, but potentially lose 20 per cent of her merit points.
Hei noticed Qiuyue’s concern.
“Are you doubting me, Senior Sister Qiuyue?”
Hei didn’t expect her to be so upfront. Wouldn’t most people say it in a less direct way? Maybe ‘I have some doubts’ or something?
“Look at it this way. Join us and you lose 20 per cent of your merit points, but even after that, you will still have more merit points than you had a few days ago. Not only that, but you have now gained the ability to earn merit points whenever you need them, and your skill in formations has gone up a notch.”
“What does that have to do with my 20 per cent?”
It was true. Everything Hei had said was not a reason for her to take the risk of losing 20 per cent.
“Then I will tell you my plan.”
Hei communicated with Qiuyue using his Qi.
After hearing Hei’s plan, Qiuyue smiled. She wasted no time in transferring her merit points over to Jingfei. It was hard to imagine Hei’s plan failing, given what she had experienced herself.
The three continued to the venue, where they split ways.
Qiuyue headed over to the audience seating, and Hei and Jingfei went behind the scenes, where the elders and the other participant were.
Jingfei recognised her as Senior Sister Diu.
She was an older disciple, also born in the sect, who was one of the more talented one-star array masters.
Hei and Jingfei walked over to the group of five, Elder Ping, Diu, and three other elders.
Elder Ping spoke up.
“So, you actually showed up? I thought you would have realised your folly and apologised already.”
Hei smiled in response.
“Funny, I was going to say the same words to you.”
Hearing this, not only was Elder Ping angered, but the other elders also weren’t pleased.
Diu just looked with disgust. It was true. Men lacked any respect for women. Even their elders.
She wondered why Jingfei would agree to become his maid. It was baffling.
Seeing Diu’s look, Jingfei felt awkward. She already knew that misunderstandings like this would occur when those born and raised in the sect witnessed this side of Hei.
But she knew he was doing this to probe the elders, and it seemed he was correct about them being in cahoots.
While it was normal to get angry on the behalf of another elder, this was usually directed at external enemies. Everyone here was a member of the sect, so there wasn’t really any need to be offended by Hei’s words.
It should have been viewed more like a junior stepping out of line than a personal attack.
Hei spoke up.
“Let me guess, your lackeys here will be ‘impartial judges’?”
Elder Ping snapped back.
“What do you mean by that?”
She released a suppressive aura as she continued.
“Are you questioning the integrity of the elders of the formation hall?”
Hei was left speechless for a moment.
Mistaking this for Hei having been intimidated, Elder Ping continued.
“If you cannot suffer the consequences of spouting your mouth, then maybe you should think about your words more carefully.”
Hei raised an eyebrow.
“No, it isn’t that.”
He waved his hand, casually blowing away Elder Ping’s suppressive aura.
“I was just stunned by your stupid question. Wasn’t it blatantly obvious that I was questioning the integrity of the elders? I believe they’re impartial about as much as I believe you’re a stunning young beauty.”
Hearing Hei’s words, Jingfei was unable to restrain her laughter. Even Diu had to cover her mouth with her hand.
Seeing this, Elder Ping’s face contorted.
Before she could respond, another of the elders placed a hand on her shoulder and spoke to her in private, using her Qi.
“Don’t get so worked up about small matters. With us as the judges, there is no way he will win.”
Unfortunately for her, Hei could hear every word.
‘Hehe. So, they really want to play that way.’
This wasn’t too much of a problem, he would sort it out in due time.
With that, they waited until the time of the competition.
As they entered the stage, Hei could see packed audience seats. Bai and Mei happened to be on the front row, Fang Ren next to them. They waved to Hei, who waved back.
He hadn’t seen the two for a few days now.
Elder Ping went up and introduced the event. She spoke of the format of the competition, repeating the same information Hei had heard from Qiuyue.
After she had mentioned that the three elders would be the impartial judges, Hei stepped in.
“I couldn’t agree more. Impartial judges are very important.”
“What are you doing?”
Elder Ping looked at Hei with a stern expression.
Hei ignored her as he continued.
“Hello, fellow apprentices. I am Shao Hei, also a new apprentice, and I have challenged the esteemed and honourable Elder Ping to a friendly formation duel.”
Elder Ping didn’t quite understand what Hei was getting at. Why was he complimenting her all of a sudden?
“And as Elder Ping had said, having impartial judges would be ideal.”
Hei then placed his hand on his chin in thought as he looked to the three elders.
“I wonder. Of the selected judges, how many of you have personal relationships with Elder Ping?”
The judges were surprised by the question. One of them answered.
“As fellow elders of the formation hall, we all have personal relationships with Elder Ping.”
Hei asked a follow-up question.
“Then, how many of you have a personal relationship with me?”
“… None of us.”
“That doesn’t seem very impartial to me.”
One of the elders frowned as she responded.
“We are honest in our doings. Besides, you won’t find an elder who doesn’t know Elder Ping.”
“Why do we need elders?”
He turned to the audience.
“Don’t we have many impartial judges right here?”
“Fellow apprentice sisters. I would like you to raise your hands if you have a personal relationship with Senior Sister Diu.”
After a short while, there were no hands.
“Then, do any of you have a personal relationship with Senior Sister Jingfei?”
Again, no hands.
“How about Elder Ping?”
This time there were three hands. Those of Bai, Mei and Fang Ren.
“Aside from these three sisters, none of you have any reason to vote either way. Sounds nice and impartial to me.”
Hei turned to the judges.
“I think we should let the new disciples be the judges. What say you?”
The judges looked to the audience, who seemed to agree with Hei’s words. They were clearly the better choice if one wanted to speak of impartiality.
But there was also a counter-argument.
“The audience may be impartial, but they lack the required expertise on formations to be able to judge appropriately.”
The audience also agreed with this argument. Even if they were impartial, they wouldn’t be able to judge the events properly.
Hei had a response for this.
“That’s simple. The first round is a lecture. The quality of a lecture isn’t held in its content, but rather what the listener takes away from it. One need not be an expert to know which lecture benefited them more.”
This was reasonable. It didn’t matter if one went to the most renowned lecturer if one was unable to gain anything from it.
“The second round is the identifying round. In this round, the answers can be shown to everyone. We can all see if the contestants were correct in their identification of the formations. No expertise required.”
This was also true. If it was simply identifying a formation, then the correct answers could be displayed for all to see. There was no need for interpretation.
“And the final round is the demonstration round. Obviously, we can let the formations speak for themselves. Allow the juniors to interact with the completed formations and decide which is better for themselves.”
After Hei had finished his argument, there was no room left for the judges to manoeuvre.
Having achieved his goal, Hei turned to the audience and continued.
“In addition, I propose that the lecture round and the demonstration round be combined. This way, everyone will be able to see the practical application of the teachings.”
This was to salvage the first round. By Hei’s and Qiuyue’s predictions, the juniors wouldn’t respond well to Jingfei’s lecture. But once they saw it in practice, it would click.
“So, the first round will be identification, and the second will be the lecture and demonstration. You will then decide on each component separately.”
There were no objections from the audience and the content of the challenge stayed the same, so Elder Ping couldn’t object, and the proposal was approved.
“To make this event more lively, Elder Ping and I have made a wager. If Senior Sister Diu is deemed to be the victor, my formation technique, which allowed Senior Sister Jingfei to advance to a one-star array master, will be donated to the formation hall.”
He paused for a moment before continuing.
“However, if Senior Sister Jingfei is deemed victorious, Elder Ping will have to pay 10 times the number of merit points in Senior Sister Jingfei’s identity jade as calculated at the end of the competition.”
Hearing this, the audience became excited.
Both sides had quite a bit to gain, and they knew this because, over the past week, they had been absorbing information about the sect. They knew how difficult it was to become a one-star array master, and also how difficult it was to gain merit points.
Seeing this, Hei smiled.
He walked off to his seat and waited for the competition to begin.
Elder Ping stared daggers at him. He had derailed a lot of her plan by making the audience the judge. And changing the format of the lecture round would also be disadvantageous.
She had already heard Jingfei’s explanations during the advancement assessment and was sure her lecture would fail miserably, but if it was combined with a demonstration, then the audience would see that what she was saying wasn’t complete nonsense.
Seeing her unpleasant expression, one of the elders reassured her.
“Even if the audience is the judge, the first round is ours. And don’t forget the formation Diu will be constructing. How can anything they have, compare?”
Hearing this, Elder Ping remembered the other preparations she had made.
She smiled sinisterly as she looked at Hei, but he just ignored her.
Seeing that it was useless, she turned to the audience.
“Then without further ado, the competition shall commence.”
The first round was fairly straight forward. The contestants would be shown various formations and their tasks were to either name them or describe their properties.
The audience was shown the correct answers through communication jades, which were something Hei was very interested in. They would be of assistance in his communication system.
Both contestants had communication jades that were linked to those of the audience, so they could submit their answers and the audience would see them.
There was a barrier blocking spiritual perception preventing cheating through secret messages sent through Qi.
These barriers would not prevent Hei from cheating, but there were two reasons why he didn’t do so.
One, it would lessen Jingfei’s opinion of him, making it harder to make her his life-long maid. And two, there was no need. He was confident in the training he had given Jingfei, such that she would be able to describe the effects of any one-star formation.
As the formations went by, both Jingfei and Diu were able to name every single one.
That was until a formation Jingfei had never seen before came up.
When it did, Elder Ping smiled.
This was one of the formations she and her companions had formulated in their own time. They decided to add them to this competition to trip Jingfei up.
It couldn’t be called cheating because the information was available to juniors, just not in the formation hall library.
There was no way Jingfei would know what they were, and so the first round was in the bag.
Diu proceeded to submit her answer, through her communication jade and it was broadcast to all of the juniors.
Shortly after, Jingfei’s answer came through, and it caused an explosion of laughter in the audience.
Jingfei had unintentionally adopted Hei’s mannerisms when she answered. Hei would often harshly critique her original creations, so she did the same.
The answer read as such:
“Which clown made this thing? It looks like they wanted to create the scent of chrysanthemums, but if three or more people entered the formation, the scent would periodically change to the smell of sulphur. A fun time indeed.”
Hei was amused by this. It seemed he had been spending too much time with Jingfei.
Hei wasn’t the only one to notice. Bai and Mei could also hear the influence of their brother in Jingfei’s answer, which was slightly concerning. Even Fang Ren felt Jingfei’s answer was slightly familiar.
The audience couldn’t contain their laughter, especially because the answer was correct. In their communication jades, it was described that the formation would produce the fragrance of chrysanthemums, but it didn’t mention the sulphur part.
The elder who had created the formation was about to refute the point, but then she remembered something.
Every now and then, when she invited people over to her place, the scent of chrysanthemums she had created would be overpowered by a foul stench every now and then.
She had assumed that she was inviting smelly people over, but to think it was a flaw in her formation’s design…
The other elders turned to her. They had thought she was the smelly one.
The rest of the arrays continued in a similar fashion and each of the elders had their arrays ‘identified’.
At the end of the round, both contestants had perfect scores, but Jingfei had become the crowd favourite.
Soon after, the second round began.
This round would be taken in turns, and it was decided that Diu would be going first.
She began her lecture.
“The essence of formations lies in the utilisation of earth nodes. We build circulation paths to maximise…”
She taught her material, which was very aligned with the conventional teachings, resulting in a very technical lecture.
As she explained her points, she would create her circulation paths, showing the audience the practical application of the theory.
The audience was interested in what she was saying, and the formation captured their attention, but the use of technical terms alienated those without prior experience.
That didn’t seem to affect her too badly though, as she was able to finish her lecture smoothly and received a round of applause afterword.
The time came for her to demonstrate her formation.
“Now that you have heard the background, I will tell you what this formation does.”
She picked up a spirit stone and placed it in the centre of her formation.
A bright light emerged from the formation and formed what seemed to be a glass dome on the stage.
Diu then continued her explanation
“Most one-star formations perform one function, but this one-”
She pulled out a sword and attacked the formation.
When she struck it, it rippled, but remain intact. After the ripples faded, more ripples appeared, but this time, they were directed at the sword, which was knocked away from Diu’s hand.
“This formation not only defends but it also counter-attacks.”
The audience were impressed with the performance of the formation. It was different from the ones they had seen around the sect.
Seeing this, Diu smiled.
“If anyone wants to try, you can come up to see for yourself.”
Without much pause, a bunch of juniors from the audience went up to the stage and launched attacks at the formation.
Diu continued her explanation.
“This formation is special in that it will measure the force of the attack and reciprocate it. But the difference is, it will be concentrated in a small area, creating a piercing effect. Please be careful if you are using your bare hands.”
The juniors also noticed this.
Whenever one struck the formation with their hands, a sharp spike would emerge from the formation in retaliation.
This was very entertaining for the Juniors. It was almost like fighting against themselves.
One of the juniors couldn’t help asking.
“Senior Sister Diu. Just how much can this formation take?”
She was intrigued because even with so many juniors attacking at once, the formation didn’t seem to be under any stress.
Diu smiled and responded.
“This formation can handle an all-out attack from your average initial stage transcendent realm cultivator. So even I would be unable to break it without an extreme amount of effort.”
“Wow. So strong?”
The juniors were amazed that this thin layer could take so much abuse.
Elder Ping smiled at this.
This was a formation she and the other elders had prepared especially for this competition. It was a combination of two formations. Rarely seen among one-star formations.
With a triumphant smile on her face, she turned to Hei, who didn’t seem concerned in the slightest.
She was surprised to see this, almost nervous, but she was confident in her victory.
She clapped to get the attention of the juniors.
“Alright. That concludes Diu’s demonstration, you can head back to your seats now and prepare to evaluate Jingfei’s.”
The audience went back to their seats, talking about their experience.
“I wonder how Senior Sister Jingfei will compete with that.”
“I don’t know, but hopefully it will be funny.”
“Didn’t you hear? She isn’t just his contestant, but she is also learning from the Dark-Skinned Con Man. It will probably be an illusion.”
“That sounds about right.”
After the audience took their seats, Jingfei began her lecture.
“The essence of formations is to make friends with the earth nodes. We-”
Hearing this sentence, the audience began to laugh.
It seemed Jingfei was going to continue the humour to the end.
Seeing this, Elder Ping’s confidence grew.
Jingfei was thrown off balance by the sudden laughter.
She turned to Hei, who just nodded his head.
“We must first know the earth nodes and what they like and what they dislike before we can start making any formations.”
The audience continued laughing. Clearly, Senior Sister Jingfei was having some fun before she got to her real explanation.
Jingfei used her Qi to overpower the laughter as she continued.
“For instance, this particular earth node prefers its Qi to flow like this.”
Unlike Diu, who drew circulation paths first, Jingfei started with the earth nodes.
“And this earth node wants the Qi to move this way. As you can see, they are opposites. How will we get them to make friends?”
Jingfei went to another earth node.
“Look at this friend here. It likes for the Qi to twist around it in both directions. You can tell this by paying attention to how the natural Qi is spinning in place like this.”
At this point, the audience became silent. They realised that Jingfei was actually conducting her lecture and it wasn’t a joke.
“Now if we have them hold hands like so…”
She drew a path between the three nodes.
“You’ll see that they complement each other. This is the kind of thing we are trying to facilitate when we create formations. We seek to befriend the earth nodes by providing them Qi in the way they like, and also have the earth nodes discover each other by creating circulation paths between them.”
Jingfei continued her explanation and the audience became engrossed.
Bai could clearly see Hei’s influence in this explanation. Even though she hadn’t studied formations, she could almost see Hei standing behind Jingfei and pointing out the way.
She was very familiar with the way Hei explained things through their development of the Way of Essence.
She wondered why her brother hadn’t asked her to help when he was studying formations. He hadn’t even come to visit since they arrived at the sect. Did he not need her anymore?
Seeing that Bai was feeling down, Mei remembered Hei’s instructions.
She rubbed Bai’s head.
“Don’t worry, Sister Bai. No matter who comes along, you will always be Darling’s number one adorable little sister.”
The darling part was improvised, but the message was the same.
Bai slapped Mei’s hand away.
She didn’t like having her head rubbed unless it was from Hei.
“I know that. Brother already told me himself that I am number one.”
Bai turned to Mei with a triumphant smile.
Mei looked at Bai with a blank expression.
“But… that’s not what I said.”
“But it’s what I said.”
They both looked at each other, causing a tense atmosphere.
As Mei’s berserk aura started to manifest and Bai prepared her Marionette, they heard a voice beside their ears.
“The two of you should calm down, OK?”
Both of them stopped what they were doing and looked to Hei with apologetic expressions.
Hei didn’t turn to them. Instead, he continued to watch as Jingfei finish her performance.
By the time she was done, the audience was speechless. Even the elders couldn’t speak.
Her explanation was so simple and nonsensical that no one would believe it, but when they saw it with their own eyes, the couldn’t refute it.
Jingfei had created a log cabin on a patch of grass.
“Now, if anyone would like to try, you can come to experience it yourself.”
Jingfei waited, but there was no response.
“What’s the matter?”
She was confused at the audience’s silence. A lot of them had come when Diu had called.
One junior spoke.
“It’s an illusion. Haven’t we already experienced it?”
This was the shared thought of the audience. Whether you were a metre away or standing on top of it, an illusion was an illusion. There was nothing more to see.
Hearing this, Jingfei understood.
“That’s where you’re wrong. While this is an illusion, that’s not all it is. Similar to Senior Sister Diu’s formation, this is not only an illusion formation but a defence formation as well.”
These words caused a stir in the audience.
“Instead of looking, why don’t you come to experience it yourself?”
This time, a few juniors decided to head to the stage.
When the entered the bounds of the array, they were shocked. It was like they were stepping into the woods. The smell of the log cabin was vivid, and the grass beneath their feet felt as real as could be.
They were even able to enter the cabin, which had a bed that was soft to the touch. No different from a real bed.
As their fingers stroked the furniture, they could feel the textures.
All of it was just like the real thing.
One of the juniors couldn’t help but ask:
“Senior Sister Jingfei. You said this was a defence formation?”
“Then, how much can it take?”
“It shouldn’t be any less capable than Senior Sister Diu’s formation.”
The juniors stared at Jingfei with wide eyes.
“Can we see for ourselves?”
One junior took a sword from her spatial ring and proceeded to slash the side of the cabin.
There was not even a scratch. Not even the slightest fluctuation to indicate that this was an illusion.
The only thing one could say was that the wood was too hard.
Spurred by this, the other juniors attacked the formation as well.
None of them was able to do so much as cut a blade of grass.
“Wow. It’s so nice, but also practical. Someone could live here.”
“Can I live here? It’s better than the cultivator caves.”
“That’s for sure.”
Hearing these comments, the juniors who had decided to stay in the audience also came down to take a look.
They were similarly amazed by the formation.
When the place became too crowded, Jingfei had the juniors return to their seats.
It was now time to decide the winner.
Elder Ping was now nervous. She didn’t expect Hei to also have a combination formation. And what’s worse, its defence was no worse than her own.
She waited anxiously as the juniors submitted their answers.
As the answers for the lecture round came in, her heart sank. Every junior voted for Jingfei’s explanation. And there was a good reason for this.
After hearing Jingfei’s explanation, the juniors felt like they were only a step away from doing the same thing themselves. They felt that creating formations was no longer something out of reach.
This was very different from Diu’s explanation, which felt too complicated. It was evident that one would need to study extensively before one was able to make formations using Diu’s approach.
Even Diu herself would have voted for Jingfei. She was just disappointed that she hadn’t heard this sooner and saved herself years of intense study.
The results of the demonstration round were more interesting.
In the end, Diu won by a few votes, which meant the competition was a draw.
Elder Ping breathed a sigh of relief, but before she could declare the competition’s end, Hei spoke.
“If I’m not mistaken. Most of you voted the way you did because of Senior Sister Jingfei’s words. That her formation is no less capable defensively than Senior Sister Diu’s?”
The audience nodded their heads. For them, it was between the attack capabilities of Diu’s formation and the style of Jingfei’s.
“This is because Senior Sister Jingfei was being too humble.”
Hei turned over to Diu.
“You said your formation can be broken if you put your mind to it?”
“If I truly wish to destroy it, then it is possible.”
He then spoke one word.
From the audience, Mei jumped to the stage, landing in front of Diu’s formation.
She extended her arm and held her middle finger with her thumb.
After building up some force, she flicked the formation, which shattered like glass, falling to pieces.
Mei smiled at Hei before returning to her seat.
Hei then spoke once more.
“If Senior Sister Diu can destroy Senior Sister Jingfei’s formation then it is a draw, however, if she is unable, then Senior Sister Jingfei’s formation is superior. What does everyone think?”
The audience was still stunned by what Mei had just done.
After they realised what Hei was saying, they nodded their heads slowly with blank expressions on their faces.
Elder Ping wanted to object, but what she would be objecting to was the discovery of the true results. As such, her hands were tied.
Diu nodded her head. She also wanted to see what this stylish defence formation could do.
She pulled out her sword from her spatial ring and utilised one of the Radiant Jade Sect’s signature sword skills. Radiant Slash.
Her sword glowed with dazzling light which made it difficult to see.
She entered into a stance and swung it with all of her strength.
The entire venue was filled with blinding light, which began to fade slowly.
As it did, a large section of the stage leading from Diu outward was revealed to have been carved by her sword slash.
However, when it got to the formation, it was stopped cleanly.
The log cabin was standing there as if nothing had happened, not a blade of grass out of place.
Diu was impressed. As far as she knew, the formation hadn’t wavered in the slightest when hit by her strongest attack.
“And that should be enough to see which formation is superior.”
There were no objections. Everyone agreed. Jingfei’s formation was superior.
Even though it didn’t have any offensive capabilities, it would protect those inside better than Diu’s, thus it was the better defence formation. On top of that, it was a livable space.
Seeing that the decision was unanimous, Hei turned to Elder Ping.
“That makes two rounds for me and none for you. Will you be paying cash or credit?”