As the dust settled in the arena, the Sect buzzed with chatter and speculation. Mira's astonishing streak of victories had set a standard that seemed insurmountable, but the subsequent bouts had been battles of will, strategy, and raw power, each unique in their approach.

Nova lay in the infirmary, her body knitting itself back together after the mauling it had taken. The black dragon scales that had once armored her had faded away, revealing the toll the fight had taken.

However, she wasn't confident that she would advance to the next round. From a purely statistical point of view, there were others who had done better than her.

Seraphina, on the other hand, wasn't worried at all. Other than Mira and Rayna, she was confident she did the 3rd best. However, Celaine's performance was definitely praiseworthy.

Everly and Eden, though they had shown exceptional power, fell just shy of the mark as their techniques were spectacular but not sustainable. Maybe if Eden had stronger and more versatile techniques and Everly had ones that didn't use so much Qi, they'd place higher.

Unfortunately, this was their final chance, and they blew it.

Celaine and Asami's duels with the Rank 9 beasts were battles that had everyone at the edge of their seats. Celaine's victory was a result of pure technique, while Asami's draw was of mutual exhaustion.

They had shown the heights of what the average talented cultivator could achieve, but even these displays had their limits.

As for Rayna… the results spoke for themselves. If she didn't advance, then perhaps nobody was worthy

When the time came for Aelina to announce the semi-finalists, the crowd fell into a hushed anticipation. The Elders looked down at the scrolls in their hands, which contained all their notes about their performances.

"First off, before we start, let us commend all our competitors for their exceptional displays of power and skill," Aelina's voice boomed across the arena, gaining applause from the audience.

Once they quieted down, she continued, "The decision for the semi-finalists was not taken lightly. Each disciple's performance was scrutinized, considering not only their final stage but how they got there and the strongest opponent they were able to face."

"As you already know, the Central Continent Competition is coming up soon. We need not just a talented representative who can lead us but one who's already strong and clever enough to take on those monsters. Thus, the criteria we judged are based on those aspects."

With that said, the crowd almost immediately understood who would make it into the Top 4 and couldn't help but feel a bit bad for Celaine. On paper, she deserved 4th place, but in reality, she just didn't stand a chance against people like Nova, Seraphina, and Rayna.

After letting her words settle in, Aelina snapped her fingers, causing a translucent screen to appear. "In first place, to I'm sure nobody's surprise, we have Mira, with her incredible display of overwhelming power and talent!"

Mira's name appeared at the top of the screen, and Aelina continued. "In second place, due to the potency of her poison, perception, and survivability, we have Rayna!"

Rayna's name appeared right under Mira's. "In third, for showing exceptional intelligence, creativity, and strength, we have Seraphina, who took advantage of every of all her strengths and her opponent's weaknesses to win!"

Seraphina's name popped up under Rayna's.

"And finally, for the fourth slot and the last person who will proceed to the Semi-finals, we have…!"

Aelina took a dramatic pause to look at all the contestants, her eyes landing on Nova and Celaine. The two of them tensed up seeing her casual smile, but the Sect Master just brushed it off and turned her attention back to the crowd. "Nova!"

Nova and Celaine both slumped over but for different reasons. "In all honesty, this was a tough pick. Celaine deserved to be the last-placed Semi-finalist, but after careful consideration between me and the Elders, we decided to rule her out. The gap in strength between each stage above Rank 9 is enormous. Nova fought a Late-Stage Rank 9 beast to a draw as a Soul Transformation Realm cultivator, something that is unprecedented."

Neither Nova nor Celaine was happy about this, as, from a certain point of view, it was as if they both lost. However, Aelina wasn't done.

"Now, we understand that this was a bit unfair. So, as compensation to Celaine, we have decided to grant her the Wildcard position, which will allow her to still compete for the Prime Disciple title. She may not be allowed in the Semi-finals or Finals, but she can choose to fight the winner. Should she defeat them, she may be crowned as this century's Prime Disciple!"

A wave of murmurs rolled through the crowd, a mix of shock and excitement at the unique decision. However, they were more than satisfied with this outcome.

Celaine's eyes sparkled before she turned to Mira and gave her a look that said, 'I'll challenge you when you win.'

Mira just smirked and shook her head, but she was also looking forward to their bout.

Nova, meanwhile, tried to mask her relief with composure. She knew she was walking on a razor's edge — her victory had been a hair's breadth from being a loss. The fact that her last fight had been with a Late-Stage Rank 9 beast carried weight, but the Sect Master's choice was a clear message: potential was as valued as performance.

"With the Semi-finalists chosen, I have decided to grant everyone a break! We will resume the tournament at dawn of the next day when everyone is in peak condition!" After Aelina announced that, she clapped her hands and disappeared, along with the rest of the Elders.

The audience also soon dispersed, leaving behind the 8 Quarter-finalists. However, none of them were in the mood to talk to one another, especially the Top 4, who immediately went home to prepare.


Nova's return to her secluded courtyard was met with silence. Her quarters, nestled within the side of the mountain where lava happened to flow, helped her relax as if she had just entered her natural habitat.

As she sat cross-legged in the center of her training room, her aura fluctuated wildly. The Ouroboros Bloodline within her churned, pumping seemingly endless power through her veins.

Her eyes, reflecting the pitch-black flames of her bloodline, flickered. The Black Flame, or what she liked to call the Devouring Flame, was a wild, destructive force that needed to be controlled. To face someone like Mira or Rayna, she needed to reach a high enough mastery with her affinity if she wanted to have a chance.

In another part of the Sect, Seraphina's quarters were far from quiet. A diverse group of disciples had answered her call, each of them experts with different affinities. From Earth to Lightning to Darkness and everything in between.

As someone who understood that Mira's strength lies in her overwhelming power and versatility, she needed to get used to fighting and dealing with all the main elements. Rayna was a unique contender, but she was more worried about Mira.

Meanwhile, Rayna's path took her away from the Sect, deep into the heart of the mountain range. She sought isolation, a place where she could push her Petrification ability without consequences. Here, she should be able to find great test subjects to try and understand her bloodline abilities better.

Back within the confines of the Sect, Mira ignored Dominique, Hana, Elenei, and Rhydian to meditate.

Every time she closed her eyes, she faced Rayna and practiced mentally fighting against the woman, sharpening her responses and crafting contingencies for the reality she would soon face.

Mira's mental battles with Rayna, although imaginary, honed her intuition like a blade. She understood that in the coming battles, the margin for error would be nonexistent. Every movement, every decision would have to be precise. There was no room for mistakes.

Outside her her residence, the Sect was still abuzz. Nobody could stop talking about the previous and upcoming battles, especially Aelina's last decision.

Celaine, now with the Wildcard's weight upon her shoulders, trained with an intensity that bordered on obsession. She was not content to merely challenge the winner, in other words, Mira; she intended to beat her. However, to do so, she would need to surpass her current limits.

The day and night passed like this, with each semi-finalist caught in their own training sessions.

As dawn's first light painted the horizon, the Sect stirred. Disciples moved toward the arena, even betting on who they think the two finalists will be.

In the arena, Aelina stood once more, her presence commanding silence.

"The time has come," she declared, her voice much heavier than the day before. "Today, we will witness the ascension of a new Prime Disciple. Our semi-finalists have shown us the pinnacle of our Sect's teachings and what you all are capable of, and now, they must show us just how far they're able to go."