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Sure enough, checkpoints fraught with dangers abounded and difficulties awaited at every turn in the passage. Jiang Chen hopped over the bloody jaws, but before he could reach top speed, dragons of fire baring their fangs appeared in the cloudy sky above.

Spiraling pillars of fire belched a sea of rising flames, as if he’d suddenly returned to the Ancient Slaughter Formation of Seven. There were some differences, but just like the formation, various changes littered his path without warning.

Thankfully, he was familiar with the formation’s secrets. The seemingly great dangers closing in on him weren’t as threatening as they appeared to be.

“Jiang Chen, don’t worry. The fire is an illusion. I don’t feel any lethal energies coming from them,” the Vermillion Bird secretly sent.

He’d dare face even the most terrifying of fires with the ancient beast by his side, but its explanation still set his heart at ease. His figure accelerated and shot straight for the flames, puncturing through them landing on the other side. The third trial was behind him.

“Congratulations, young man. You’ve passed the qualifiers,” a voice told him.

Collecting himself, Jiang Chen didn’t display any semblance of happiness as he followed the officials. As for the other candidates, it was none of his business how many would pass, as long as he himself did.

He was brought to a large, quiet great hall to rest. Quite a few candidates had finished ahead of him and were waiting inside. He glanced their way and counted a dozen sitting figures.

Sure enough, there are many talents on Winterdraw. He hadn’t tried his hardest, but he was still surprised to see so many had qualified.

Most great emperors from the human domain probably would’ve failed, even without the age limitation. To think this place is only an island of exile among the Rejuvenation Isles! The foundations of Myriad Abyss Island really aren’t something to underestimate.

Jiang Chen became even warier with this recognition.

Compared to the human domain, he’d been struck by the much richer spirit energy the first time he’d landed on the island, only to learn later Winterdraw was merely a second or third rate power. This led him to reconsider Myriad Abyss Island in a new light, that such a place would possess rich energy.

My journey this time won’t be easy. If I grow careless, I may even leave regrets on this marginal island. What a fearsome place. I truly can’t lower my guard for a second here. He sat down cross-legged to regain his breath.

The trials went on. Close to twenty thousand youngsters had registered, so it took roughly four days for the qualifiers to finally came to a close.

“Alright, young geniuses, you’ve waited for a long time.” The supervisor’s voice rang inside the peaceful hall. “In total, three hundred ninety eight of you have qualified. Let me first congratulate all of you again for making it this far. You’ve already gained the city lord manor’s acknowledgment and become one of us.

“You’ll be facing an even harsher elite round next. Only eight will be chosen at most. These elites will be conferred a dignitary title and obtain a yearly salary of two million sky spirit stones. Remember, that’s merely a baseline salary. Ample additional rewards await after great contribution or merit. The city lord manor has simple and straightforward rules. Your abilities will dictate your treatment.

“More importantly, you need to show the city lord your talent is superior than anyone else. That’s the only way to gain his respect. Make him think you’re indispensable, that you’re worth nurturing in the long run!”

Jiang Chen remained indifferent despite the supervisor’s stirring speech, his heart calm as water.

“Of course, those of you who don’t become elites shouldn’t lose heart. You might not obtain the same rank or pay, but the city lord manor still welcomes you with open doors. You’ll merely have a slightly lower starting point. Our lord isn’t inflexible. No matter how humble your origins, your future will be just as bright as long as you exhibit peerless talent!” 

After all, those in the great hall were the cream of the crop who’d emerged from more than ten thousand candidates.

“There are also three parts to the elite round. The first part will test pill dao. The second will challenge martial prowess. We will select the best sixty four out of those remaining. Then, you’ll be eliminated one by one until the best eight remain.

“Perhaps some of you question the rationale of a pill dao test. But keep in mind that the city lord wants comprehensive talents. True peak-level powerhouses need coverage in many departments. It’s difficult walking far through brute force alone.”

The city lord manor naturally had its own requirements, so the youngsters weren’t too surprised. Those who’d made it this far naturally had their own achievements in pill dao.

“Competition is cruel, but the sky’s the limit if you’re chosen. Youngsters, show us what you’re made of!” After stoking the crowd’s emotions, the supervisor continued, “You will now be given new numbers.”

Jiang Chen was attributed number eighty one. “Nine times nine is eighty one, a return to the origin of all. This is auspicious.” He was as serene as ever.

Pill dao was child’s play for him. Of course, it was only one of the assessment factors as the city lord manor had its own priorities. The final ranking would include many subjective factors.

Since he was number eighty one, he had some time to kill. He remained sitting and waited calmly. He had little worries at this stage of the selection.

In a secret private room somewhere inside the great hall, City Lord Xie Wushang and his subordinates observed the process in high spirits.

An advisor flushed with excitement. “My lord, this crop is a quality bunch. All those who’ve reached the second round are good seeds. The chief warden will certainly be pleased this time.”

Xie Wushang smiled, obviously rather satisfied as well. “Money talks. Why else would so many geniuses have come?”

Raising the bar was a brilliant move. The city lord was quite pleased with the quality of the candidates this time.

“Everyone, is there anyone you favor among the three hundred something? Someone who’s sure to make it to the final eight?”

Many had passed the qualifiers, but in the end, they were mere foils for the true centerpieces, a backdrop for the top eight to shine brighter.

“I have my eyes on number one hundred sixty three. The kid’s so calm and steady that you can’t help but trust in him. His performance in the previous rounds has also been rather eye-catching.”

“I’ve been keeping an eye on several of them, but we’ll have to wait for the final results to deliver their verdict. Many might have hidden their real strength in the qualifiers.”

“That’s right. Some might have been more brilliant, but who knows if others don’t have some aces up their sleeves? In the martial world, no one knows who will have the last laugh.” 

“Heh, I’ve been observing number eighty one. This kid’s performance has been very persuasive. He hasn’t let the feverish mood affect him. One who can stay so impervious to outside influences is sure to become an expert!”

Number eighty one happened to be Jiang Chen.

Xie Wushang looked at the great hall and scanned the assigned numbers, his eyes sweeping across Jiang Chen.

“Eh? There’s truly more to this young man than meets the eye.” At first glance, he sensed a strange aura exuding from the kid. That was purely a powerhouse’s instinct. He couldn’t help taking another look, nodding slightly afterwards. “Number eighty one is worth keeping an eye on.”

Eyes closed, Jiang Chen could faintly sense vague strands of consciousness in the air observing himself. But he remained motionless, as if unaware.

All the officials were observing him because of the city lord’s judgment, but the latter said, “Don’t overdo it, or you might alarm the youngsters and hinder their performance.”

The advisors ceased their scrutiny at his order.

Just then, someone called Jiang Chen’s number. It was finally his turn.

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