Aelina, elevated upon the central platform, surveyed the finished arena with the satisfaction of a chess master moving pieces into place. 'Fufu~ Aren't things too easy now? The entire Continent is basically within my grasp, and there's not a single thing anyone can do about it.'

The feeling of unbridled freedom was surprisingly liberating. Cultivators spend their entire lives gaining strength for various reasons. Some people just want to seek power. Others want to make a mark on the world.

However, regardless of the reason, there's one common denominator between them all: freedom.

Deep down, every cultivator wants to be free–free from society, from higher powers, from all constraints.

But paradoxically, the stronger one gets, the more restrained they become. Enemies get stronger, the fear of death becomes real, and one fuck-up could mean not only the death of oneself but their entire legacy.

The more power one obtains, the more that's at stake.

As one of the strongest beings on the Continent, Aelina understood this well. Should she die, the Battle Maiden Sect would be reduced to history, and her name would disappear off the face of the Earth.

So, now that she's able to come and go as she pleases, with nobody that can stop her, bold thoughts started to appear. 'Central Continent? No. I need to aim higher. Even if Mira doesn't win against those assholes, I'll eventually be able to sneak in if given enough time. Now that I have the power, I should increase the foundation of the Sect.'

After settling her thoughts, she looked up at the sky and sighed. "...Someday, I'll enter the world of Immortals. I need to prepare for that day."


A few hours passed by quickly, and it was now time for the quarterfinals to resume. The disciples all made their way to the arena, only to find it completely changed!

"OH! It looks like things are about to get interesting!"

"Now, it looks like a true arena!"

"I was looking forward to seeing Mira smash everyone, but I guess that'll have to wait."

As the crowd discussed amongst each other, the 8 remaining contestants all made their way to the arena and waited for Aelina to announce what was going on.

Aelina waited a few more minutes for everyone to trickle into their seats before she coughed, silencing everyone. "My disciples, as you can see, this round of the tournament will be slightly different than before. Rather than fighting against one another, I'm sure you're curious how they fare against… different opponents."

She snapped her fingers, and a screen appeared out of thin air. On it, there were dozens of Shadowfangs smashing against cages, roaring out in rage as they attempted to break free.

"As you can see, we've gained some volunteers who were willing to put our fighters to the test!" Aelina said with a sly smile, sending shivers down the disciples' spines. "For this round, we'll see just how strong they really are. A battle of endurance! A battle of pure power! With this, we'll discover the four most talented disciples of the century!"

The crowd roared, their eyes widening in anticipation. That's their Sect Master! Always keeping things interesting!

"Mira, you're up first!" Aelina suddenly called out. "Come and set the benchmark for this round!"

Mira clicked her tongue in annoyance, sending Aelina an annoyed glare, only to receive a playful smirk.

She knew what Aelina was trying to do.

'She wants to give the others a goal to shoot for. As long as they beat me, they can kick me out of the next round. Meaning, if I want to guarantee my place, I have to give it my all.' Mira had to admit that this was a genius move to make everyone try their best, and for the first time since the beginning of this tournament, she wasn't against it.

On the contrary, this was exactly what she wanted!

'Finally, something interesting.' Cracking her neck, she hopped into the large pit that was the arena and took out her scythe.

A series of barriers lit up around the arena, blocking her in. Then, not even a second later, the wall on the other side lowered and revealed a hulking Low-Stage Rank 8 Shadowfang. Its sleek, panther-like form blended into the shadows behind it, but Mira could see it clear as day.

Noticing that it was free, its bloodshot eyes instantly locked onto Mira, and without hesitation, it leaped, cutting through space in an attempt to slaughter her where she stood.

With a casual flick of her wrist, Mira swung her scythe. It looked like a simple movement, but the power behind it was unfathomable.

The ground in front of her cracked and separated, speeding toward the beast until it hit it head-on, threatening to cut the Shadowfang in half.

However, before the creature could die, a barrier enveloped it, healing its wound in a flash of light. The crowd erupted, but Mira's eyes remained indifferent.

Aelina's voice cut through the cheers, "A splendid display of power, but we're just getting started!"

The gates lifted again, releasing a second Shadowfang. It shared the fate of the first—Mira's scythe shot through the air, and the beast was struck down before a growl could escape its throat. A barrier, a flash, and it was saved.

However, by then, the first beast had recovered and attempted to pounce on Mira, but the result wasn't any different.

That's when a third Low-Stage Rank 8 Shadowfang was released, but Mira just waved her scythe three times and 'killed' them again.

"Now, let's make things a bit harder!" Aelina's voice rang throughout the arena as a Mid-Stage Rank 8 Shadowfang appeared.

This time, the Shadowfang was larger, its snarls deeper, and its eyes burned with a fiercer malice. Yet, its presence did little to shift Mira's calm demeanor. As it charged, her scythe met its advance, an effortless extension of her will. The beast fell, the barrier saved it, and the crowd's roar became a constant hum in the background.

"Again!" Aelina's command was a spark to the powder keg of anticipation that the crowd had become.

Another Mid-Stage Rank 8 beast, then another. Each one fell just as swiftly, a testament to Mira's monstrous strength. By the time a Late-Stage Rank 8 Shadowfang stepped into the arena, the disciples' awe had turned into a heavy silence, watching the impossible become routine.

With every new foe, Mira only swung her scythe an extra time. They were not battles but executions. It didn't take long for the beasts to fear Mira, wanting nothing more than to run away instead of fighting this monster!

Finally, a Peak-Stage Rank 8 Shadowfang stood before her. Mira faced it with the same impassive, bored look. In a burst of movement, it attacked, yet even its prowess was nothing in front of Mira's single, resounding cleave.

Then, two more Peak-Stage challengers entered, but their fates sealed before they even began. Mira dispatched them in the same manner as she did before. All they were was an extra wing.

As the third Peak-Stage Rank 8 Shadowfang was saved by a barrier, Aelina rose from her seat, her eyes reflecting a spark of excitement. "Well, it seems these beasts are nothing more than peons for our Mira. It looks like we'll have to introduce something a bit stronger! Can she handle it, alongside defeating a dozen Rank 8 beasts?!"

The gate that rose this time was different. The air tensed, and a ripple of power ran through the arena. A Low-Stage Rank 9 Shadowfang emerged, its aura like a crushing tide that even the most stoic disciples could feel weighing upon their chests.

Mira, for the first time, shifted her grip on her scythe. This creature was not like the others; this was a genuine threat. The disciples leaned forward, whispers running like wildfire.

"Can she do it?" they asked, not sure if they wanted to know the answer. The difference in strength between a Rank 8 beast and a Rank 9 beast was immense, just like the gap between the Soul Transformation and Mortal Shedding Realms.

It was a threshold. Even geniuses who were at the peak of the Soul Transformation Realm would find it difficult to kill a weak Low-Stage Rank 9 beast.

'Let's see how much I've improved.' Mira thought, lowering her stance with a smirk. Unlike the first time she faced a Shadowfang, back when they almost died, it felt immensely powerful, like a gap that couldn't be closed.

Now? It wasn't nearly as terrifying.

Then, with a silence that the others didn't possess, the Rank 9 Shadowfang lunged with a velocity that bent the air.

Mira's sharp eyes tracked the beast's movement. She pivoted her stance and prepared to face it head-on.

In just a microsecond, metal met hide, and an explosion of force sent shockwaves radiating outwards. The barrier, erected by the Sect, fluctuated as it absorbed the excess energy, protecting the spectators from the blast.