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824 Challenge

 The ceremony whereby the Holy Apprentices were officially promoted to Holy Disciples was hosted by a Teacher. The ceremony seemed to be just a formality, and it was a standard procedure every year. Nearly two hundred Holy Disciples took their oaths, their voices echoing around the arena. It was the usual impressive-sounding speech, such as pledging allegiance to the Holy City and aiming to follow in Adalia the Holy Saint Teacher's footsteps. With the majestic drumming music and the intermittent sobs coming from the newly promoted Holy Disciples who appeared to be very excited, as well as the cooperation of the spectators in the audience stands, the whole ceremony appeared rather solemn.

Frankly speaking, only those who had gone through the Holy Disciple tests knew how hard it was to obtain the Holy Disciple status. Some were lucky enough to win against competitors that were stronger than them, while some were old Holy Apprentices who had been living in the Holy City for five or six years or even longer. When they walked in, they merely looked excited, but the moment they started taking their oaths, tears started to well up in the eyes of these old Holy Apprentices.

Finally becoming an official disciple in the Holy City? Following in the footsteps of the Holy Saint Teacher?

These old Holy Apprentices who waited many years to become Holy Disciples were all once geniuses favored by the heavens, yet they dropped to the bottom in the Holy City. Without the novice protection period and a Holy Disciple title, they had to pay prices one couldn't even imagine in order to survive in the inner city area and continue learning. Tired? They would be tired for sure, but the scarier thing would be living without dignity or hope, or leading lives worse than a Teacher's pet dog.

At the moment, some people were sobbing and had tears all over their face amidst the excitement of taking their oaths. Most newcomers might not be able to understand how they felt, and most newcomers in the spectator stands still thought that they were just slower or had fewer resources as compared to the now Holy Disciples, but they would experience the same sadness in time to come.

As for the challenge round of the competition, these old Holy Apprentices didn't really care about it nor did they pay much attention to it. Having lived like slaves for the past few years, most people's fighting spirits were already diminished, and they were used to hiding in the shadows. Perhaps it would take a long time for them to walk out of the shadows, or perhaps they would never be able to. They only cared about their Holy Disciple status now, and they didn't care about being in the limelight.

Those who wanted to steal the limelight were the newcomers from the three main groups, the Empire, the Federation, and the dimensional humans.

To be able to become a Holy Disciple in the same year that they arrived at the Holy City, they were certainly the cream of the crop. Perhaps they didn't really mind the hundred or so Holy Coins allowance that first and second-class apprentices received; at their level, this little income didn't matter. Rather, they valued the reputation that they could gain from this competition.

Who didn't want to attract the attention of Great Teachers? Who didn't want to amaze everyone with a single feat and get favored by more forces, attaining more resources? Their chance to shine was here, the Holy Disciple Challenge!

The Holy Disciples who had taken their oaths hadn't walked off just yet. The Teacher on the stage was announcing some rules regarding the Holy Disciple Challenge, which, in fact, everyone already knew long ago. The Holy Disciples divided themselves into a few groups automatically.

The people from the Empire definitely made up the strongest force among these groups. After all, the Empire had accumulated their talents for so many years, and there were more than a hundred Empire newcomers who had been brought to the Holy City by Teachers, way more than the Federation newcomers in this year's batch. A whopping 50 people from the Empire passed the Holy Disciple test, the highest number from a single force. They took up one-third of the Holy Disciples that were promoted. Not only were there people from the Kaiser Empire, there were also many from the Amazon Empire and even the Tutankhamun Empire. Solomon managed to achieve his goal perfectly during his time in the Holy Land. It was a groundbreaking feat that he managed to convince his Great Teacher to fight for a quota of over a hundred for people from the Empire, allowing them to join the Holy Disciple rank-advancement competition.

Now, they were congregating behind Solomon. Although they came from different factions, Solomon managed to win their hearts after they arrived at the Holy City. Solomon was skilled in both power and the art of being tactful; he clearly had his own unique way of doing things. He simply had many ways to win the hearts of the people over.

Besides Solomon, Enoch - who was rather famous among the newcomers - stood at his left side as always. Indeed, badlands produced savage and untamed people. The Federation had long heard that people from the Empire were known to be fierce and violent. This group of elites from the Empire all appeared to be vicious and tough, a stark contrast to the gentle and graceful Federation people. Just from their aura, it could be seen that this was one of the key reasons why the Holy City decided to accept more people from the Empire. They needed such new blood to stimulate the Holy City citizens who continued to conform to certain standards. A different culture could always introduce new things and keep people dynamic. Other than the Empire newcomer group that Solomon led, the dimensional humans were also a force to be reckoned with. They were really a group of talented people, and the ratio of newcomers being successfully promoted via the Holy Disciple rank-advancement competition was also the highest; it was even higher than that of the elites from the Empire. This year, there were over forty dimensional humans in the newcomer batch, and almost thirty were promoted to Holy Disciple.

Hyde Alexander maintained quite a low profile among the newcomers. As the undisputed number one expert among the Tyrants' newcomers, he was also the super genius of the dimensional humans, and he naturally became the leader of this group of dimensional humans. Including some old Holy Apprentices-turned-Disciples that were dimensional humans, there were more than forty people around him, which wasn't significantly fewer than the number of Empire people. The dimensional humans always had a small presence in the Holy City, and they were never the headline of any news. They were like a transparent group of humans, but their presence couldn't be overlooked. In fact, the dimensional humans were extremely talented because of their excellent genetics. A high ratio of experts came from the dimensional humans. In addition, they were born and bred in the Holy City, and they were also very united by the pressure of their low social status, so they had a considerable amount of power and connections in the Holy City.

The dimensional humans were the oddities of the Holy City. They were one of the main forces in the Holy City army, yet they had never been able to become one of the higher-ups in the Holy City. No matter how big their contributions were to the battles, the dimensional humans didn't seem to be rewarded properly. Their credit would be taken away by the higher-ups. In the Holy City, there were rumors that said the higher-ups feared the dimensional humans and discriminated against all of them, as they were jealous of their talent and unity... Of course, nothing good happened to the people who spread this sort of gossip.

Compared to these two groups that had large numbers of people, there were fewer people standing behind Carolyn. Nonetheless, there were still around thirty people.

Although there were only dozens of Federation newcomers who managed to pass the rank-advancement competition, there were many old Holy Disciples from the 10 Great Families who belonged to previous batches. Although these people had stayed in the Holy City for a longer time than Carolyn, they couldn't match up to her in terms of power. Everyone knew what would happen to these old Holy Disciples. Even if these people managed to become Holy Disciples after a long time, they would be made to work like slaves for a few years in the Holy City, and they would never be able to climb to the top of the food chain. Late bloomers didn't exist in the Holy City. Perhaps there were a few people who broke this stereotype in the long history of the Holy City, but it was very few. It was expected that this group of people would be led by Carolyn. These old Holy Disciples didn't dare or want to be in the limelight, but even if they wanted to, they wouldn't have the power to override Carolyn.

This group of people represented the power of the aristocratic families in the Federation. It didn't only consist of people from the 10 Great Families, but anyone from the Federation would join this circle automatically. The 10 Great Families would accept them into the group since anyone who was able to come to the Holy City held vast potential. That was also why many top-tier families were willing to align themselves with the 10 Great Families. Many people who hadn't shown their faces much in the Holy City gathered around Carolyn, with Divian, Gui Xinying, and Bobo Torres forming the core of this group. The funny thing was that Gui Hao wasn't standing with them.

There were around ten people behind him. It appeared that he wanted to form a group of his own, competing against the other three groups. Although he had fewer people on his side, he was the only newcomer who publicly affirmed his Peak Heroic Soul Stage power in this batch of Holy Disciples. He also held the record for possessing 12,000 Grassos of Soul Power. With that, it didn't seem like it was overconfident for him to form his own team.

Other than these four main groups, the rest of the people were scattered about. These were mainly people from the Federation and mostly old Holy Disciples from previous batches. After living the past few years in despair, they no longer harbored any hope that their families would help them. During their hardest times, their families didn't or couldn't help them, so they felt that there was no need to bow down to the 10 Great Families. Even if their status had fallen, they still had their own principles.

There were many people belonging to this group too, around twenty or thirty people. In past years, this was the group that was valued the least among the Holy Disciples. Usually, no one would spare another glance at this group of people, but this time, something was different. There were three newcomers who were each an 'eyesore' in this group.

They were Wang Zhong, Grai, and Napier.

The three of them were the defending champions of today. Second-class apprentices would naturally attract everyone's attention, not to mention that Grai and Napier had been hot topics among the newcomers recently. Before this, there was news that several Great Teachers were in favor of Grai. In the rank-advancement competition, Grai and Napier had managed to squeeze into the top five, passing the test with a time of sixteen hours and fifty-six minutes and seventeen hours and twenty-three minutes respectively. They were definitely powerful, and every newcomer would have to consider carefully if they wanted to challenge these defending champions.

Needless to say, Wang Zhong was the center of attraction too. His experimental accident had caused an everlasting impact although the higher-ups had dismissed this accident lightly. Wang Zhong had a notorious reputation in the Holy Disciple circle now, especially among the alien races. They thought that they would receive compensation for their losses, but other than being arranged better housing by the higher-ups, their losses weren't accounted for at all. That was why many alien-race Holy Disciples wanted to skin Wang Zhong alive. If they didn't consider this a solemn ceremony, there would probably be people throwing rotten eggs at him.

"I heard that this dude got in through connections with the Alchemy Union. He was promoted without even having to go through the test."

"What? He has connections to the Alchemy Union? Is there something wrong with their representative? How did they dare to accept this dude who destroyed three buildings with his little experiment?"

"Who accepted him into the Alchemy Union? That person must be blind!"

"It was Great Master Murphy..."

"Huh... Ahem, erm, I think Solomon is rather handsome!"

Listening to the endless chatter coming from the stage, Marie Ji couldn't help but laugh out loud. "This guy is rather interesting. Wang Zhong, huh? I heard that he met with an accident while experimenting with wards, destroying some dormitories. He's quite dauntless, huh?"

She suddenly recalled Lan Daier's assistant, that girl called Ella, who mentioned a new taste-tester with the surname 'Wang'. Ella mentioned that Lan Daier treated the new taste-tester quite well. "Don't tell me this dude is your little taste-tester?"

"You're right." Lan Daier smiled. "How do you find him? Doesn't he look like the type who doesn't eat a lot? He looks so skinny, but you wouldn't believe your eyes if you actually saw how much he eats."

"Hmm..." Marie Ji noticed the expression in Lan Daier's eyes. She hadn't seen Lan Daier exude this youthful feeling for many years.

There's something more to it?

Marie Ji smiled, not prodding further. "He's considered not bad to be able to become a Holy Disciple in the same year he arrived here."

While the two of them were chatting, the Teacher-in-charge had completed the Holy Disciple ceremony and finished explaining the rules of the challenge. He then announced the start of the Holy Disciple Challenge. This was the highlight of the day, as cheers erupted from the spectator stand. Everyone was already hyped up, regardless of whether they had just dropped by to see a good show or were cheering for their own people.

"As Scarlet hasn't returned to the Holy City, she will be exempted from this challenge. The defending champions who are called upon, please take your place in your respective rings!" The Teacher's voice could be heard throughout the whole arena.

......

As Wang Zhong was about to face his challenge, Katchirda was also facing its own troubles. As many groups of desperate merchants showed up, bringing with them various resources, endless desert thieves came too.

Human lives in the desert were as worthless as grains of yellow sand. The desert thieves' pursuit of wealth was an obsession engraved in their bones. It was a curse given to them by the desert, and it was a poison without an antidote.

It was dawn, and Reynolds was woken up again after just an hour of sleep. "Instructor, they're here again!"

Reynolds grabbed his leather armor with tired eyes and rushed out of the tent. At the city wall area which was still under construction, a bunch of half-naked desert thieves were frantically transporting the wood and stone materials that were stacked at the side of the city gate. In the desert, wood and stone materials were precious resources second only to food.

Once Reynolds showed his face, whistles could be heard from a distance. The desert thieves shouted in unison before sprinting away into the depths of the desert with their stolen goods.

With a cold snort, Reynolds pursued them as five desert thieves rushed towards him while shouting.

Bang Bang Bang...

A desert thief that was dashing toward Reynolds was smashed into the ground. Looking at the desert thief army who were already on camels, Reynolds didn't continue pursuing them. He let his subordinates throw the five desert thieves left behind into prison, where they would become part of the labor force constructing Katchirda City.

This was the simple plan that Gong Yi had come up with, the resources and manpower exchange plan to deal with desert thieves. They would treat their stolen resources as payment for the captured manpower since they required a lot of manpower to construct the city. This was Tutankhamun, and there wasn't any technology or modern equipment like in the Federation.

He had been having a headache over where to recruit manpower, and these desert thieves had served as a good source of manpower ever since they came. Of course, to make them listen, Gong Yi prepared several methods, and there weren't many who could last more than three. Reynolds's indignation aside, Gong Yi felt that this was a very good deal.