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Pill dao was the elite round’s first topic, but it was run differently from the many pill dao evaluations and competitions Jiang Chen had previously participated in. Those had emphasized theory, while practical applications were the sole focus this time.

Everything was to be considered from a practical aspect this time. For example, when one received such and such wounds, which pills or herbs made for the best recovery?

How should one react when poisoned by such and such toxins? What were the antidotes or the most appropriate preventative measures? 

There were ten questions in total.

“Eight correct answers or more is excellent score and will result in priority consideration. Seven is average, while six is the bare minimum. Five or less means immediate disqualification from the list of the last sixty four.”

There was no precise grading rubric, but the evaluation had its own criterion. 

The design of these questions was much more reasonable than pure theory. At the very least, it was much more useful, which was the number one priority for cultivators in a dangerous world. Gaudy concoction skills or rich theoretical knowledge were of no significance without tangible benefits. 

Jiang Chen agreed with the examiners’ angle of attack. No matter what, he applauded the absence of idle rhetoric or abstract principles in favor of subjects grounded in reality. Tangible results ought to be the truest measure of skill.

He began answering the questions in earnest. Questions of this level couldn’t stump him, but he wasn’t arrogant enough to get carried away simply because of his superior knowledge. On the contrary, he bent his mind to the task and answered each question conscientiously. 

Standing out would only attract unwanted attention, or so his past experience had taught him.

He knew the answers full well, but instead of penning them immediately, he mused deeply for a long time, putting his thoughts in order, only answering after seemingly careful deliberations to avoid suspicion.

And even then, he took pains not to provide a full ten correct answers. Eight would be already an admirable feat for the other candidates. He didn’t want his performance to seem too abnormally good.

So, instead of mindlessly pursuing perfection, he kept his score to eight out of ten. As for the other two, he deliberately made subtle yet credible mistakes in order to fool the judges.

After handing over his answers, he walked out as if still preoccupied in the test before. Someone else guided him to another confined area. Those who’d completed the first test were forbidden to return to the scene of the crime, or they might divulge questions and answers.

Jiang Chen found himself in an unfamiliar place. According to the rules, he was to wait there until the next part.

Just like in the qualifiers, the second martial evaluation was a nearly identical obstacle race. The content was simply more challenging. It seemed they’d run out of fresh ideas and had to settle for raising the difficulty.

Just as before, Jiang Chen stayed composed and did things at his own rhythm, handily passing the trial despite the apparent dangers he had to face. Once again, his results barely met the bar for an excellent score.

This way, he achieved an excellent grade in both of the first two examinations, making him fully confident for his participation in the third. I might as well pack up and go home if I’m not chosen after scoring excellent twice.

Sure enough, his number was included in the last sixty four, giving him the right to participate in the elimination stage.

This third and last examination was to be the grand finale.

A candidate had to defeat three opponents in succession, one to reach the last thirty two, a second one to reach the last sixteen, and finally a third to be selected as one of the top eight. They would attain the ultimate glory of the selection and the best treatment after it.

The chosen geniuses gathered together. Many of them looked forward to doing battle. Why couldn’t the fighting begin immediately?

Jiang Chen remained calm and collected. He blended into the crowd with just the right attitude, not too flamboyant but not too subdued either.

“Congratulations, everyone. Making it this far proves you’re so much more exemplary than the rest. Even so, competition is cruel. Only the eight most outstanding among you will be chosen and bestowed wealth and status. Who will be the brightest stars among you?

“I don’t know and neither does the city lord. But we’re all waiting for you to show the fullest extent of your talents. And now, you’ll be reassigned a number one last time.”

Jiang Chen’s number was a rather ordinary twelve this time.

“Before we begin, we need to first explain a few details.

“One, heaven-defying artifacts or contracted spirit creatures are forbidden. The matches must be a martial exchange between the candidates. 

“Two, no cheating in any shape or form. The city lord manor holds final veto power.

“Third, to encourage fighting to the fullest, everyone must sign a contract of life and death. You won’t be held accountable if you kill your opponent. Of course, you can choose to fight to first touch or choose to forfeit. But remember that you’re responsible for your own lives.”

No matter how cruel, the rules had been laid on the table in black and white.

“Any objections? You still have time to raise any.”

Heads shook. The conditions were within their margins of tolerance. Only the third one was a little cruel, but the cultivation world itself was fraught with risk. The selection wasn’t the right place for safe and smooth sailing. To register implied some ability to withstand danger.

“We’ll now randomize all the numbers. The pairs drawn will fight each other, for a total of thirty two duels in the first round. The winners will proceed to the second round,”

Jiang Chen was calm as ever. The identity of his opponent was of no consequence. Everyone present deserved their spot in the top sixty four, but no one was his match.

His number came up in the eighteenth draw. His opponent was number thirty three, a tall and sturdy fellow. The man was in the top three when it came to size. His iron tower-like frame seemed to radiate power and menace. He threw Jiang Chen a wide grin after seeing his opponent.

“Kid, remember that I’m called Wang Kui, the same Kui character as in ‘strong’ or ‘first.’ It’s not that shameful to lose to me!” Despite his nonchalant tone, his words brimmed with arrogance.

Jiang Chen smiled at the man’s self-confidence and nodded back. “See you on the stage.”

The young lord didn’t know where the man’s confidence came from, nor did he care.

Soon after, all thirty two head-to-heads were decided.

“The first round has been drawn. You all know who your opponent is. We’ll proceed in groups of four. Four fights will take place at the same time on four different stages, so the first round will finish after eight turns. Remember the order of the duels and don’t delay the others!”

Organizing the too many fights one by one would take too long, not the result the city lord desired.

The city lord seemed in a hurry. He wanted the selection wrapped up and the final results published as soon as possible. 

No one else knew the reason for his urgency, but they had to follow his orders, hence why duels were to proceed four at a time.

Since Jiang Chen’s fight was the eighteenth, he was in the later half.

Wang Kui walked beside the young lord seemingly on purpose, or not; his tall frame sending repeated provocation in an intimidation attempt. He made no attempt to cover his threatening gaze, as if trying to scare his opponent into submission with his eyes alone.

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