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Veluriyam Capital exerted every resource at its disposal for this gathering's sake. Most surprisingly, the assembly wasn’t disorderly despite the number of entrants. Even Jiang Chen was impressed by this kind of administrative ability. Of course, the sheer volume of millions still put considerable stress on the organizers’ shoulders. Standing in the crowd, Jiang Chen breathed in and scoped his surroundings. People were everywhere around the Veluriyam Pagoda, mountains and oceans of teeming activity.

“I don’t know what to say, brother. What are you doing signing up for the New Star Rankings? If you ask me, you should’ve just asked the Coiling Dragon Clan to get you a slot. There’s no need for even His Majesty to intercede. You could have gotten yourself into the Genius Rankings straightaway.” Ji San was standing beside Jiang Chen. Though it wasn’t necessary for him to compete in the New Star Rankings, he was Jiang Chen’s sworn brother. He had to attend an event like this, if only for support alone.

Smiling faintly, Jiang Chen refrained from giving a proper explanation. Instead, he gazed intensely at everything around them. “Wouldn’t I then miss this million-strong competition? I couldn’t just leave the festivities alone.”

Ji San laughed, baffled. “These are just the qualifiers. Honestly, a lot of these people are simply here to have fun. That’s why we need to filter them out. There’ll only be a hundred thousand once that’s done. Afterwards, we’ll have to choose a tenth of those guys. Only then will they have a place in the New Star Rankings.”

Jiang Chen knew the rules for the Martial Pagoda battles now. The registered million had to go through an initial round. The people that passed this round were actual contestants. After this first layer of filtration, one million would shrink into a hundred thousand.

“Have the Martial Pagoda battles in previous years also hosted this many people?” He asked, curious.

“Yes, it’s always been this many. According to the clan lord, more than one and a half million people have participated in some of the previous Pagoda gatherings. But this year is the most popular in the most recent millennium.”

Jiang Chen laughed. His heart was moved by the eager faces all around him. In the world of martial dao, it was difficult to make a name for oneself and climb up the social ladder. Chances to do so were exceedingly rare. Everyone wanted to grasp such opportunities and become famous overnight. The wandering cultivators with grassroot origins especially desired to do so, so that they could change their own destinies.

It was a pity that these opportunities, when all was said and done, were still stages reserved for geniuses. Most who came with beautiful dreams in their hearts were doomed to return with spirits laced with disappointment. Those especially unlucky would even lose their lives here. Nevertheless, their passions could not be quenched. The world of martial dao was cruel. Risking life and limb in the course of adventure was a common occurrence. How could one hope to succeed without such a mindset?

The first round’s process was very simple. A formation would be activated around the base of the Veluriyam Pagoda. The million entrants would be split into twenty waves of fifty thousand each. The five thousand and fewer that lasted the longest within the formation’s aura were eligible to move on to the next round. Thus, the purpose of this round was to eliminate ninety percent of the entrants. The tenth that remained would then compete for the New Star Rankings’ ten thousand spots. Jiang Chen was assigned to wave eighteen, out of twenty. He wasn’t going to enter for a while. That was good in its own respects, though. He could use the extra time to gauge the overall quality of the entrants. 

Rays of colorful light flooded down from the peak of the Veluriyam Pagoda’s main pagoda. Seven-colored auspicious radiance hurtled towards the ground, giving off a feeling of sacred regality.

“The formation has been activated, and the first wave is inside. Please pay careful attention, contestants. if you cannot hold on, crush the jade slips in your hands immediately and you will be automatically ejected. Remember, the formation will not respond to your emotions, and you are responsible for your own life and actions. Don’t struggle in vain. However, staying as long as your strength permits is naturally better as well. Your present performance will determine the arrangements for future selections.” An intimidating voice echoed around the Veluriyam Pagoda. It was both a reminder to the immediate first wave and an admonition to all the entrants in the ensuing waves.

Jiang Chen watched the main Veluriyam Pagoda become enveloped in powerful streams of rainbow-colored air. From the outside, the main pagoda was like an isolated space. The sheer sense of dissociation gave off a feeling of dimensional independence.

Ji San yawned from the side, “Brother, this kind of selection isn’t that interesting. With your level of strength, there’s no need to worry at all.”

As if on cue, it wasn’t even fifteen minutes before masses of cultivators began to continuously stream out, unable to bear the pressure of the formation any longer. The final results of the first wave were decided after about an hour.

“The first wave’s number of eliminated entrants is now sufficient. Congratulations to the five thousand who remain. You’ve passed the first round. Now, it’s up to you to decide how much longer you’d like to stay.”

“Does the amount of time you stay in the formation matter for subsequent rounds?” Jiang Chen asked, curious.

Ji San nodded, “I’ve heard the clan lord discuss the specifics of this rule. Apparently, the longer you stay, the better it is for you later on.”

However, there wasn’t likely to be a significant gap between the entrants at this level of competition, and evidence supported this. Two hours hadn’t even passed before the entire first wave emerged. The exact ranking of the wave was immediately tallied up, another testament to the efficiency of the organizing party.

Ji San shook his head thoughtfully, “There was no one remarkable in that wave.”

“Why do you say that?” Jiang Chen didn’t quite understand.

“According to the clan lord, this is actually the first chance to observe all of the contestants. This formation is a kind of touchstone. Many geniuses that rose from the bottom in previous years had amazing performances in this formation.”

“Oh? How amazing?” Jiang Chen’s interest was piqued.

“The year that the clan lord participated in had a lot of geniuses. There was a guy that stayed inside for an entire six hours. He was a wandering cultivator, too!”

Anything that the Coiling Dragon Clan lord participated in was definitely considered ancient history. Jiang Chen recalled the lord’s age. The man was almost at the end of his natural life, so it must have been at least a few thousand years ago. “Is six hours the record?”

Ji San moved his head from side to side, “Definitely not. Genius abounded in ancient times. Those that could stay inside for six hours were fairly common. But in the recent few millennia, especially the past one thousand years, there has been a clear decline in the number of wandering cultivator geniuses.”

Jiang Chen didn’t find that surprising at all. The increasingly tight control of the largest sects and factions over the Divine Abyss Continent’s territories was proof enough that wandering cultivators had less and less room to thrive. It was harder to make up the difference between those hailing from sects and the sect-less. With the increasing monopolization of various large sects over all kinds of resources, not much remained for the wandering cultivators. Understandably, fewer of them could even think of rising up as a result. That was plain enough to see. There was something Jiang Chen wanted to know even more, however—how long could Veluriyam’s own noble scions last in this formation?

“Brother Ji, do noble youths enter the formation to be tested as well?”

The young master smiled. “Some people are bored enough to give up their special treatment and take part, yes. Their performance has always been pretty good overall as well. However, I’ve not heard of any true top-ranked genius do something like this. Six hours should be likely enough for the young lords and such, at least by my estimate.”

The disparity was clearly illustrated. There were none in the first wave that could last even two hours, but young lords and their peers were able to stay for six. Jiang Chen was silent, having come up with a rough plan. By now, the second wave had entered the formation as well. Just like the first wave, the second wave was unimpressive. No suspension of disbelief was necessary. Nothing was surprising at all. It continued on like this for another two waves.

There was a little jolt during the fifth, though. There were three geniuses in that wave that stayed past the two hour barrier. The most adept among them lasted an entire three. It gave people watching the first round a hint of excitement, a little bit of conversation-eliciting material. The three geniuses instantly became the talk of the crowd. As the top three of fifty thousand entrants, getting into the New Star Rankings was no problem for them.

Quite a few, in fact, felt like they had the ability to reach the two hundred strong Genius Rankings. After all, there were only twenty waves. If there were three as strong as these fellows in every wave, that still meant only sixty total. Even if noble youths commandeered the vast majority of spots, there was still hope for a small group about that size to contest the rest.

Perhaps it was due to the fifth wave’s stimulation, but three-hour-plus geniuses kept popping up in the few waves that followed. There was even one person in the eighth wave that almost reached four hours, though he fell short of that line in the end. Ji San felt a little regretful on his behalf. “I feel for him. Anyone that stays past the four hour mark is clearly on another level. It’d be a definite confirmation that they are capable of challenging the Genius Rankings as well.” 

Though they had broad horizons, noble youths like young master Ji San found that kind of ability respectable nevertheless. Each subsequent wave carried a few marvels of their own, but no one could break the four-hour line. It wasn’t until the thirteenth wave that this statement no longer held true. A genius in that wave managed to remain inside for four hours and fifteen minutes. It was the best record yet for this first round. As a result, the person’s name was easily committed to memory.

“Chu Jianhuan?” Ji San quietly muttered the name over and over. “This guy… it’s definitely possible for him to go for the Genius Rankings. Not every genius has to come from a highborn background, huh.”

For Ji San to find him so valuable… this Chu Jianhuan’s excellence was undeniable. Jiang Chen gave the cultivator two glances. From a cursory inspection, the man was at least in the ninth level sage realm. A hint of sternness flashed across his visage. Jiang Chen filed the man into memory. Chu Jianhuan’s results were positively intriguing. There were two geniuses after him that almost broke the four-hour mark, but they didn’t quite manage to reach it.

Four days passed by very quickly. When the seventeenth wave had entered the formation, Jiang Chen finally felt a sliver of anticipation in his heart. It was almost time for him to engage.

“Brother, your time is almost here. Be bold, be dazzling, show them that our very own Pill King Zhen is a genius of many talents! A master of both martial dao and pill dao!” Ji San encouraged Jiang Chen.

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