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357 Poking the Bear

    To this gathering, followed a week of preparation.

    Strategies, pairings, roles, and tactics were discussed in secret amongst the numerous members of the top hundred.. Until finally, the day of the test arrived.

    The many students who had reached the peak of the tenth stage of immortal cultivation, had now been regrouped in a large square. In front of them, stood a massive obelisk carved out of a gigantic boulder. Depicted on it, were numerous words in an ancient tongue that had fallen into disuse, and at its feet, was the spatial formation that turned this obelisk into a teleporting device.

    Standing just outside of this formation, were three cultivators. Two of them were known to all of the students as Krit the Sniper.. the explorer who had been put in charge of the whole academy along with the second man, who was clad in thick plate armor, and stood quietly with an authoritative expression on his face, showing his military background without even needing to talk.

    The third individual was an old man with long white hair, and a long grey beard. His tall and slender figure was covered by a brown robe which made him look like a hermit. He was the current chairman of the Patriot Academy, as well as its first professor. His job was to review the test's  results, and give a more in depth evaluation of each of the candidates for the competition between the two intergalactic powers.

    This old looking man was standing a step in front of the two representatives of the explorers and the military of the universal government, and was currently looking fondly at the thousands of young cultivators who, for the past two years, he was forced to familiarize with the same way a teacher would with a student.

    Surrounding the group of students, were the professors which, similarly to the chairman, looked at their favourite students with prideful expressions.

    Amongst theses students, was a single individual who attracted the attention of each and every one of the people present, and yet, no pride could be seen in their eyes. These looks were not of hate, but of a mixture of jealousy, confusion, and admiration. None of them had been able to teach a single thing to this cultivator, and any notion he had learned within the academy, had been self taught. None of the professors had the right to take pride in this cultivator's progress.. No one except for Krit, who could at least boast about being the one who had found this scandalous talent.

    He was looking at him with such fervor, that the military representative that was standing next to him, could not help but notice his eyes curve through his goggles. Due to the competitive nature of their two divisions, to him, this expression did not appear as one of pride, and was instead, gloating.

    This individual was dressed in a leather armor that left him with little to no protection in the vital areas of his body. This choice of armor had been dictated by his ability in hand to hand fighting, which had allowed him to come out of hundreds of fights without a single scratch, making the concept of an actual protective armor obsolete to him.

    Hanging by his waist, were two single-edged swords that looked like an extra pair of deadly legs. Underneath this brown leather armor, was a spotless white t-shirt which did nothing to cover the dozens of scars that covered this person's arms.

    If Daniel or any other member of his group had been here, they would immediately recognize this person as Jerigh.. Starting from his usual quietness, blond locks of hair, and the good looking features of a man in his early twenties, but that in reality, was closer to his early thirties.

    "Dear Students. The next test will be the most important and defining moment of your lives. The day you will obtain a gift that hasn't been granted to you, but that belongs to you.. A gift that will be shaped by your personality, habits, feelings, and experiences. I won't stand here and tell you that you will become the most powerful young talents in the universe, because in this specific moment, even arrogance could ruin the rest of your long, long lives. Do your best.. Make us proud one more time."

    This was the speech of the chairman, and only words he had decided to pronounce to these thousands of young cultivators.

    The very existence of a cultivator was based around the pursuit of power. Some seeked power to feed into the constant cycle of getting stronger to avoid death, protect their loved ones, or sometimes, even simply to be superior to others.

    Regardless of their motivation, each of them aspired to have the best possible gift from their ascension. After all, the better the gift, the stronger they would become in the future, as opposed to limiting gifts that would bind them to a life in the military. So while many of them were thinking of hindering Jerigh's progress, most of them were preoccupied with their own ascension, which would dictate who they would be for the next tens of thousands of years.

    The only one that appeared to be in peace with any possible outcome, was Jerigh. He was just standing in position, waiting for the test to begin. His confidence was making others uncomfortable, creeping into their minds, reminding them the difference between him and them.

    After his speech was over, the chairman invited the students to enter the platform in groups of a hundred based on their ranking, leaving the top hundred for last. The reason for this division was so that, unless extremely unlucky, only the students of a similar level of talent could be of a threat to each other.

    Numerous sideway looks were exchanged between the members of the top hundred as they were teleported in block into another world.

    When the group reappeared, they found themselves on the top of the tallest mountain in their surroundings. From this mountain, they were able to see a thick forests, numerous caverns, the unmistakable light blue color of the sea, and vast yellow sand.

    As if on cue, the moment the members of this group arrived, they turned into ninety-nine different directions, and disappeared in the distance.

    Before attempting their ascension, they had formed a plan to hinder Jerigh. However, if they simply attacked him when he was aware of their presence, and not burdened by his own ascension, he would end up becoming too much of a challenge for them.. Just like it had happened the last time, when more than thirty had attacked him, just to find themselves covered in injuries and bruises about a minute later.

    The first step was to act as if nothing but their own ascension truly mattered, so instead of attacking, they left.

    Before leaving, the slowest few that left the area had noticed something odd.. As if uninterest by what the others would do, Jerigh had sat down in the middle of this cleanly cut mountaintop, and begun the first step of his ascension.. Meditation.

    "What? He just sat there?" Asked the leader of this team, which after a few minutes from their departure from the mountaintop, had reunited with him and the rest of his group as planned.

    The cultivator looked back from the direction he came from, as if afraid that he could have been followed, then nodded, and said, "Yes. He sat before we could leave."

    "How **ing arrogant.." muttered the leader of the team, before going quiet for a minute. He then added, "Alright, let's go meet with the rest.."

    ------

    Three hours later.

    At the bottom of the sea that could be seen in the distance from the top of the mountain, was a massive constructed bubble of air, outside of which some unknown marine creatures swam curiously.

    Inside this bubble of air, were around ninety of the top hundred ranked cultivators. They were divided into nine groups, and each of them was composed of fighters with similar skills, and lead by one of the top ten ranked warriors.

    "Where the hell is he? We don't know how long it will take for that monster to ascend. If he already has the moment we get there, we are done fore." Said the sixth ranked cultivator with a clear hint of anxiousness. Amongst the many cultivators present, he was one of those with the most doubts about their plan.. After all, he had been defeated more than once by Jerigh in the past.

    "Shut the hell up. He will arrive soon." Said the red headed girl, who happened to be the fourth ranked within the whole academy. She was leading one of the melee teams, and was armed with two notched chakram which people could only look at with fear, when imagining how painful being hit with them would be.

    Just as she finished talking, a group of small black shadows approached the massive air bubble, attracting the attention of the most curious and aggressive looking marine monsters in the surroundings. However, the moment these monsters reached the small shadows, they turned into a mist of red that stained the waters like dense red ink.

    After swimming through this mist of blood and pieces of flesh, this group arrived to the surface of this bubble, and pushed through it. They then graciously landed on the dried seabed, covered in what looked like diluted blood.

    "Is everybody here?" Asked the blond cultivator as the liquid that covered his body began to evaporate from his skin, and join the water that was surrounding the bubble.

    "Yes. we were waiting for you." Said the red headed woman with a quick nod, and a faint smile. The blond cultivator was the only one with whom she smiled, showing that she had an interest in him that went beyond plotting, or ranking. Unfortunately for her, the blond cultivator did not reciprocate this interest, and instead, had used it to gain prestige when proposing this plan to the rest of the top hundred cultivators.

    "Stick to the plan. Attack him with all you have.." Said the blond cultivator while slowly looking at the other team leaders.

    One of whom, asked "If we get there before he enters the second stage, we are screwed. We need to wait for the right moment."

    "What do we do then? Do we try to cripple him?" Asked the ninth ranked cultivator with what appeared like clear hostility towards their common enemy. He, along with the sixth ranked, and most of the others, had been put to shame by Jerigh multiple times in the last few years.

    "No. He is Sir Krit's favourite.. If we cripple him, who knows what will happen to us. Just stick to the damn plan we have prepared.. Interrupt his ascension, then leave right after. His body, mind, and spirit will be devastated by the failed attempt, forcing him to not only fail this test, but also to spend a few weeks recovering. At that point, we will have taken over his spot, and be able to prove our worth."

    The idea of gaining a higher position in the ranking, even if simply one spot, was wirth the risk for these competitive cultivators. So the moment the blond cultivator confirmed the plan, each of them nodded with eagerness and enthusiasm.

    "Go.. we can't miss our window."

    -----

    Back in the mountain top, Jerigh was still sitting quietly in the lotus position. He was feeling every bit of immortal essence wash over his organs, flesh, and skin.. Ignoring the faint wind that crashed against his skin, or the solid and uncomfortable ground he was sitting on.

    His body was a whole world, immobile, and seemingly indestructible. His spirit was a calm sea whose waves were so slow and calming, that they would be able to put a person to sleep before they could ever drown. His mind was a small boat, on which a lonely and happy man fished in peace. Everything was in full harmony, and while somebody would believe this to be a boring sight, in truth, it was an omen that his cultivation was ready to advance.

    The first step of the ascension had been completed, and the following one had begun. The immortal essence within him began to surge, and inside his body, formed a vortex that quickly absorbed the power of the many perfect crystals that he had placed around his body. This power was sent washing through every fiber of his body, changing it forever.

    While Jerigh was fully focused on this, what looked like an upside down mirror image of the mountain on which he was sitting on, had appeared above him, and was quickly falling down like a massive arrowhead. At the same time, hundreds of ranged elemental attacks silently follow suit, and pierced through the air in his direction.

    Each of these attacks were already only meters away from him, and in the minds of the attackers, it was clear that the ambush had been a success. Not even Jerigh would have been able to avoid these many attacks.. Be it if he was in a fully allerted state, or in the middle of his ascension.

    However, what these cultivators had failed to factor in their plans.. Was a human that was sitting on a wooden chair an incalculable amount of kilometers away from them.

    Since a minute ago, he had been sitting with his eyes closed, and looking at two simple words written in a window that had appeared in his mind. This window was the System Upgrade's window, and these words were "Group Donation."
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