The cultivators around them were murmuring but the newcomers were completely silent. For once, they had been ordered by size, so Xu Yan and Xie Yi were right in front and unable to watch the reactions of the people behind them. The ones standing next to them, however, were frozen with nervosity.
“The test changes a bit each year”, Master Chen explained leisurely, “but don’t worry, the difficulty stays the same. This exam is made up of several smaller parts, which can be split into practical and theoretical. As you might guess from the fact that we are outside, we will start with the practical part.”
Testing both practical and theoretical knowledge was something that was to be expected. For a cultivator, a written test could be more than just writing down knowledge. Additional restrictions like using brushes that needed energy to write or releasing incense in the room that would make it hard to concentrate could be used to test more than what the students had memorized. The practical test, of course, was necessary to find out the physical capabilities and control of the students.
“You don’t need to be overly good in everything”, the cultivator continued. “For example, you don’t need to be a genius at fighting if you wish to join the medical ward. There is a minimum level you need to pass and if you don’t, we will take you out of the test immediately. Anything beyond that will be discussed once we have the results of all tests.”
She paused and looked over the newcomers, giving a small comment with a smile. “If you have questions, you can ask them before each test. Don’t worry.”
Her comment did nothing to ease their tension, but it was nice to know, nonetheless.
“Now, let me roughly explain the practical tests. Number one is a simple test on your level of gathered energy, which is done by nothing more than you holding an energy crystal. Number two is a test about control, where we will ask you to complete tasks with the movement of your energy alone. Number three is your work on arrays, where you have to draw and activate a given array in a certain amount of time. Four is a mix of physical and mental endurance. More to that later.”
An attendant stepped up, speaking loudly. As he began to talk, the air around the training ground warped, until the newcomers found themselves standing in what could be said to be a huge hall. The cultivators were gone from their sight, only Master Chen, the attendant as well as the two grandmaster-levelled people left behind.
Xie Yi glanced around as he listened. This was an area-control type spell. They were mostly based on innate ability and as it seemed, this one was very suitable for being a testing ground. Depending on how exactly it worked and according to Xie Yi’s assumption, this separate space was like a bubble hanging on the training ground. You could see inside but not outside, it could repair itself, and some things could be done beyond what was logical. For example, the huge pedestal appearing without anyone doing anything.
“When we call your name, please step forward. We will scan your bracelets to ensure that you are the correct person - please note that trying to cheat will result in your immediate disqualification. Please hold the crystal in both of your hands and don’t reject it taking your energy. The result of both the amount and quality of your energy will be shown through illumination and colour of the crystal. Your result will be noted down by us. Once this is finished, please step back to your previous place. Talking is allowed, but please be quiet.”
The attendant rattled down her memorized text before exhaling and glancing around. “If there are any questions, please state them now.”
Silence. It wasn’t anything complicated.
The attendant nodded in satisfaction, then looked at the paper in her hand. With a short pause, she began to call the first name.
One by one, everyone was called forward without any visible logic in order. Some looked satisfied, others annoyed as they compared their results and whispered about them.
When Xu Yan’s name was called he twitched, but Xie Yi patted his back reassuringly. He had pulled Xu Yan along to practice every evening and had corrected some mistakes in meditation whenever he saw them, so he was aware that Xu Yan’s talent wasn’t bad at all.
As expected, the crystal didn’t light up overly much, but the colour was a much clearer white than for other newcomers, which was much more important.
Xu Yan sighed in relief and slouched back, rubbing his wrist where his identification bracelet was placed. Xie Yi pulled the edges of his lips up slightly, then looked to the front when his name was called.
He held out his hand obediently, not really looking as the attendant placed a device on his wrist before waving him towards the pedestal with the crystal.
Just as he reached out, Shi Yue spoke up, his voice clear within the hall. “Master Chen, I believe I had said to use a different crystal for Xie Yi?”
Stunned silence enveloped the room. Master Chen awkwardly smiled and glanced at Xie Yi. “Master Li, I do understand your request to heighten the difficulty for him specifically, as he intends to become your disciple. We also followed this request, but I don’t think we should start the exam by depressing him with the result of a higher levelled crystal.”
Shi Yue looked at her and sighed, which she took as an agreement to continue. She smiled at Xie Yi and motioned for him to start.
The Grandmaster looked at the ceiling, just as Xie Yi took the crystal into his hands. As he didn’t reject its pull, the spherical crystal just happily pulled his energy in full towards it.
“I suggested using a different crystal because his capabilities were bound to burst the limit of this one”, Shi Yue commented from the side, waving a finger at his attendant who readily stepped out with a new one in hand.
Xie Yi awkwardly stared at the shards in his hands. The crystal had shattered completely, unable to even start lighting up. He hadn’t worked with that type of crystal before, so he had no idea about how the levels were stacked. At least now he knew that it was rather sensitive.
“Sorry?”, he tried, holding the pile of shards out for the attendant, who just looked at them with wide eyes. They looked pretty, maybe they could be used for something…
“A child that young shouldn’t be able to hold that much”, Master Chen whispered, flabbergasted. Shi Yue kindly explained.
“The purity level is abnormal, which is enough to cause cracks. Add to that, the fact that he holds about the limit that someone his level can take and that he habitually draws in new particles from his surroundings instantly.”
Right, he did have that habit. Maybe it would have been good to stop it. It was the habit of an at least mid-stage Master to unconsciously make sure that their energy would never be depleted. As strongly as the pull outwards was, he would pull in. The moment his body had adjusted to the process again, the habit had returned.
Master Chen took the crystal from Shi Yue’s attendant just as Master Chen’s took the remains from Xie Yi, both of them exchanging glances.
“That surely is the clearest pass I’ve ever seen”, she whispered under her breath and shooed Xie Yi back to his place.
A bit ashamed for breaking testing equipment, Xie Yi return to Xu Yan and looked at the ground.
The mood was rather weird for the last few that needed to be tested. Unknown to him, everyone was just focusing on one thing: Grandmaster Shi Yue had asked to make Xie Yi’s test harder. The harder test for the little guy that broke the energy crystal - what would it look like?
Well, for one, Xie Yi didn’t get a potion to return his energy. It wasn’t even necessary, he awkwardly confirmed, as he had already filled up what had been taken away.
The attendant’s voice wavered a bit as she spoke this time.
“For the second test, each of you will be in a separate area. You just need to step unto the teleportation array to be brought to where your test will be. Everything will be explained there.”
The sect wasn’t interested in mincing their words. Once again, everyone was quickly called out to stand on the teleportation array that had appeared instead of the pedestal.
As Xie Yi found out, the testing area was likely a manipulated room somewhere in the sect. He could sense its borders despite his eyes just showing him endless whiteness and when he reached out with his hands, he could feel the wall.
It wasn’t a large room, just roughly four metres for each side.
“Student Xie Yi, your difficulty has been adjusted”, a voice sounded from nowhere. “Please sit down.”
As ordered, Xie Yi sat in the middle and crossed his legs. After a bit of fidgeting, he sat comfortably, then looked up at where the ceiling should be to await more instructions.
“From now on, at any time and from any direction excluding below you, needles will be moving towards your body. Please block as many of them before they reach you. Any needle that does touch your body will disintegrate and leave behind a mark.”
The voice sounded a bit disturbed, pausing for a moment before continuing. “There… is no additional hint as to where and when one might appear. Any questions?”
It did sound a bit harsh for a newcomer just barely able to move their energy. Well, others probably had hints as to where they were coming from. And maybe not from all directions. And maybe at a set amount of time. (Or he just had a completely different test.)
Xie Yi shrugged. “None.”
“Then, let’s start.”
The voice went silent.
In the whiteness, Xie Yi just sat staring blankly. With the ease of someone doing the same thing for the thousandth time, he let his energy seep out and envelope the room around him. He added a slightly farther distance than he would have in his last life to make sure he’d actually sense the needles, then stopped and waited.
Ten seconds passed with nothing happening, then he twitched.
With an annoyed face, Xie Yi lowered his eyebrows, looking at the tiny spot on his arm.
He could sense it, but this body didn’t react fast enough to block it. He needed to expand the area.
Another high-pitched whistle sounded in his ear. Another hit, just a bit too late. Once more.
The third needle appeared towards his back, flying right towards his neck. One hand-length before it could reach him, it flew against a sizzling wall. Without a sound, the needle vanished completely.
Satisfied, Xie Yi humpfed. This kind of test, it would be a joke not to pass it!