On a main street.
Six horseback riders were proceeding forward—three middle-aged man and three young boys and girls.
"Will I be able to enter the Skysplitter Sword Sect?"
A youth named Liu Qi's mind wandered.
His father Liu Qianshan was one of the Seven Eagles of Seven Eagles Fort. Back then, he and his other six senior and junior brothers were outer sect disciples of the Skysplitter Sword Sect. The seven fellow disciples shared deep ties and founded Seven Eagles Fort together and settled in White River County. The White River Seven Eagles were rather famous.
"The Skysplitter Sword Sect rules over the eighteen administrative divisions south of the river. They are the best sect in the world," Liu Qi thought. "Some of the inner sect disciples of the Skysplitter Sword Sect are groomed by high-ranking disciples from a young age or selected from the outer sect disciples. Only after a preliminary selection would they directly become inner sect disciples, but instances of those are very rare. Presently, our East Phase District is recruiting ten inner sect disciples. Will I be one of them?"
"It's up ahead."
On horseback, a man with a single arm had a sword by his waist. He said, "Of the eighteen districts, each district only has ten inner sect disciple slots. Us seven fellow disciples endured through so much for so many years in the outer sect, but failed to enter the inner sect. We can only leave it to young people like yourselves."
"Do well for us," said another refined man.
Liu Qi and another young man and lady replied immediately.
Seven Eagles Fort trained the young arduously from a young age, and the three of them were the most outstanding ones.
Skysplitter Sword Sect, East Phase District's branch.
Today, many parents and elders brought their children here. Those who dared participate in the preliminaries were with significant foundations. Either they were from rich and wealthy families, or they were descendants of the Skysplitter Sword Sect disciples who were groomed from a young age.
"Let me make it clear first. Only those who have cultivated in fundamental inner energy techniques will be recruited into my Skysplitter Sword Sect. If you cultivate in other inner energy techniques, leave at once." A blue-shirted elder looked at the thousands of youths as his surroundings fell silent.
"Alright, let's begin the first round of today's selection trial."
The blue-shirted elder pointed to a towering mountain that rose into the clouds. "In five minutes, climb to the top of the mountain without the aid of anything."
"This year's first round is this?" The parents and elders from afar felt their hearts tighten.
The numerous youths began rapidly scaling the steep cliff.
All of them had been trained in inner energy techniques and knew movement techniques that allowed them to climb rather quickly. However, five minutes was just too short. Furthermore, many accidents happened during their ascend; for instance, people deliberately crushed rocks to send them scattering around them.
"Ah." Often, youths would plummet only to be immediately caught by Skysplitter Sword Sect disciples who flew up into the air. However, this also resulted in their elimination.
"There are a total of 126 people who passed the first round. If you are willing, all of you can be recruited into our Skysplitter Sword Sect and become outer sect disciples." The blue-shirted elder smiled at the bunch of youths, of which Liu Qi was standing among them. As for his two other companions, they had already been eliminated. Liu Qi turned to look and saw his father and uncles standing among the crowd beyond a railing.
"Father, First Uncle, Third Uncle." Liu Qi looked at his elders.
"Little Qi, try your best." The three elders watched in anticipation. By their side, the young man's and lady's eyes were somewhat red.
Liu Qi nodded slightly as his eyes filled with fighting spirit.
"All of you are to sit cross-legged and begin circulating your inner energy Dharmic formulations. Use the fastest possible speed to absorb the Heaven and Earth spiritual energies."
"Liu Qi. Talent: B–!"
"All of you are to come forward one by one to demonstrate your basic swordsmanship."
"Wang Tong. Swordsmanship: B."
"Liu Qi. Swordsmanship: A–"
"All of you can take a rest. We will begin the tournament trials early tomorrow morning."
"Liu Qi. Actual Combat: A."
After two days of the selection, the 126 youths who had passed the first round all had a ranking.
"Liu Qi. Ranked 17th." Liu Qi looked at the rankings on the red board and fell silent.
"Uncle-Master Li, our Little Qi's swordsmanship and actual combat are ranked A, making him top three! Comparable to my Little Qi is the District Lord's scion and the other is the Third Young Master of the East Phase Sword Saint family. For my Little Qi to be comparable to them, his perceptivity towards swordsmanship should be considered very high, right? Can an exception be made?" Liu Qianshan pleaded with the blue-shirted elder.
"Qianshan, it's not that I'm unwilling to help you. This is a rule of the sect. Your son can only be considered normal when it comes to absorbing the Heaven and Earth spiritual energies. It's only a B–. And the best was one with A qualifications, making him five times better at absorbing Heaven and Earth spiritual energies than your son! Ten years of cultivating the inner energy techniques will be equivalent to fifty years of your son's," the blue-shirted elder said. "Swordsmanship is important, but inner energy is fundamental. How can we pass him if his inner energy is so lacking?"
"But my son is only fourteen; yet, he possesses such swordsmanship. Doesn't he deserve to be groomed?" said Liu Qianshan immediately.
"He's just fourteen! He can come again next year or the year after," said the blue-shirted elder with a laugh. "Perhaps, your son will be ranked in the top ten in the following years and be immediately recruited into the inner sect."
Liu Qianshan fell silent.
The Seven Eagles were considered famous in White River County, but they were only considered as riffraff when placed against the entirety of the eighteen districts south of the river…
Liu Qi stood a distance away, silently watching his father argue with Guardian Li.
On the trip back, Liu Qi was somewhat silent.
"Little Qi, you are ranked seventeenth in all of East Phase District. The top ten have all entered the Skysplitter Sword Sect's inner sect. You can come again next year. I'm sure you will enter the top ten," said the one-armed man with a hearty laugh.
Liu Qi did not say a word.
"Next year? Many cultivate until they are fifteen or sixteen, close to the age limit before they participate in the trials. There will be new opponents next year, right?" Liu Qi thought to himself. "But my talent will not change. It will still remain a B–."
"Do well. You will be stronger next year than this year. You will definitely enter the top ten," Liu Qianshan said as well.
"Yes, Father," answered Liu Qi.
Liu Qianshan and his three fellow disciples exchanged looks. It was clear that they felt the pressure.
"Little Qi's swordsmanship attained an A grade. At this realm, any improvements will be very difficult. Will he be able to enter the inner sect next year or the year after?" Liu Qianshan thought. "Only by entering the inner sect will one be able to practice truly powerful Dharmic formulations. Otherwise, one will ultimately be a second- or third-rate person of the pugilistic world under the heavens."
In a bookstore.
Liu Qi came to a bookstore like he usually did and read story novels. Every time he felt mentally stressed from cultivating, he would come here to read and immerse himself in novels to forget his exhaustion.
"Little Qi, from the look on your face, you didn't become a Skysplitter Sword Sect inner sect disciple?" A boss was slumped over a bamboo chair inside the bookstore as he fanned himself with a thin fan. "Haha, it looks like I guessed right."
Liu Qi shot a glance at the boss and ignored him.
"I told you long ago. You are still young and participating in the trial would be for nothing. Yet, you refuse to listen to my advice. Look, didn't you end up wasting your time?" the boss could not help but say. "If I had any say, you should go when you are sixteen. You will definitely be selected then."
"Grandpa Qin, can you be silent for a moment?" Liu Qi said in exasperation.
"Aww, come on. Tell me how you lost," pressed the boss.
"Tell me, I'll give you some pointers. Perhaps you will win the next time.
"Hey, hey, hey… Kid, why are you so introverted? You are so closed off!"
Liu Qi finally couldn't stand it as he looked at the boss. "Grandpa Qin, I was slow at absorbing Heaven and Earth spiritual energies with a talent of B–! Tell me, how are you going to give me pointers?"
"That's a little tricky." The boss stroked his white beard. "However, it's not impossible if I try thinking of solution."
"Things that can change a person's talent are all legendary herbs, all of which are valuable and rare. Grandpa Qin, stop pulling my leg." Liu Qi curled his lips. His family was a family clan that was part of the pugilistic world. Having been exposed to such matters at a young age, it was common knowledge to him.
"Hmph, who is it that said that rare herbs are needed?"
Grandpa Qin glared at him and took out a manual from his clothes. He threw it at Liu Qi and said, "Look, this sword art manual was chanced upon me many years ago. As long as you master it, not only will you master a powerful set of sword arts, you will also undergo a complete transformation."
"You received it many years ago? But it looks really new. I can even smell the fresh ink." Liu Qi lifted up the book which didn't even have any words on its cover. As he flipped through it, he uttered, "These sword arts… Oh?"
Liu Qi thought nothing much of it in the beginning, but he couldn't help but immerse himself in it when he read it.
He slowly read through it.
At just fourteen, his basic swordsmanship had been graded at A–. The A ranks naturally meant that he was talented when it came to swordsmanship, so he soon discovered the extraordinariness of the manual.
"These swords arts—" After a long while, Liu Qi looked up at the boss and felt that the usually long winded Grandpa Qin was rather mysterious.
"How is it? Pretty impressive, isn't it?" Grandpa Qin pricked up his brows. "Years ago, I was quite a swordsman, basically invincible. How can the manual I give you be bad? Alright, alright, stop looking at me this way. I happened to save a martial artist several years ago and he wrote me this sword art manual for me. It's useless in the hands of an old man like me. So it's yours."
"Grandpa Qin, you don't understand. This is indeed a very powerful sword art." Liu Qi handed the manual back. "I can't take it."
"I already said its yours. I never take back things I give out." Grandpa Qin waved his hand and said, "Enough, stop looking so touched. I'm all alone in East Phase District, so if you are free, just visit me and listen to me drone on."
Liu Qi suddenly felt his heart wince.
Grandpa Qin's hair was all white, but he lived all alone. He was indeed deserving of pity.
"Grandpa Qin, I'll come more often to accompany you," said Liu Qi immediately.
"Okay." Grandpa Qin slumped back into his bamboo chair and leisurely flapped his fan while he thought, "The Three Realms' martial arts have indeed been thriving. Now, it has produced the first Golden Immortal with a martial art background."