In front of the children, Division Head Yue hollered, “Everyone, listen well. Inside the bamboo forest, there’s a small path on which you’ll proceed forward where you will eventually reach the Seven Mysteries Sect's Bone Refining Cliff. The first area of the path will be the bamboo forest. The second area will be a rocky slope region. The last area will be the cliff. Only those who have managed to climb the Bone Refining Cliff by noon will be disciples of our Seven Mysteries Sect. If you finish after noon, although you won't become an Inner Disciple, you can still become an Unofficial Disciple as long as your performance demonstrates remarkable prowess."
Han Li naturally did not understand what it meant to be an Unofficial Disciple. He only knew that all he had to do was to climb the cliff. Casting his gaze forward, he saw a steep slope with many lengthy bamboo shoots sprawled across its surface. It didn't seem too difficult to climb!
Studying the other children, Han Li was unwilling to lose to those in his age group. The atmosphere quickly became tense for the other children as well.
Division Head Yue cast a glance at the rising sun and said, “Okay, it’s almost time, prepare to set off! Don’t be afraid, your seniors will be protecting you from behind in case there’s any danger.”
Han Li turned his head and glanced at those unrecognizable youths.
These people were the senior disciples, so they should be from an earlier batch. Han Li could not help but think, “How impressive, if I manage to join them, could I wear the same robes of an Inner Disciple?”
As he was blindly pondering, Han Li discovered that the other children had already rushed into the bamboo forest. Seeing that he was left behind, Han Li quickly started moving forward as well.
Once the thirty children rushed in, they stopped moving as a group and scattered within the spacious bamboo forest. Behind Han Li was a lanky senior disciple with a cold look on his face, silently following Han Li. Han Li felt a little frightened and didn't dare to speak to him. Slightly intimidated, he lowered his body and proceeded to tread on the slope.
This stretch of bamboo forest looked ordinary on the outside, but after Han Li walked for a considerable amount of time, he found that it was slowly becoming more and more difficult to move forward. His footsteps were getting heavier, and gradually, Han Li began to use one hand to pull on the bamboo shoots, using the momentum of the bamboo springing back to its original position to propel him forward.
Han Li persisted in this manner for quite some time, but he eventually became too exhausted and had no choice but to find an empty space to sit down and rest, his breath leaving him in heavy bursts of air.
While taking a breather, Han Li turned his gaze and saw the lanky senior behind him. Although the ground was very steep, this senior disciple was standing nonchalantly on the ground as if it was nothing to him. His body was totally devoid of dirt, standing erect like the bamboo shoots nearby, while he silently looked at Han Li in the distance.
Looking at the senior's cold eyes, Han Li felt fear in his heart and quickly looked away. He also heard sounds of heavy breathing in front and deduced that one of the faster children was also making use of this opportunity to rest. After a short break, Han Li swiftly resumed his journey.
The slope was perilously steep, and Han Li’s energy reserve were getting smaller and smaller.
He decided to lie flat on the ground and claw his way forward instead of walking on his legs; such that if he exhausted his energy, he would not fall flat on his face. Luckily, his clothes were made of strong materials; if not, his limbs and knees might have been damaged by being dragged across the rocky ground.
As he almost reached the end of the bamboo forest, Han Li felt that it was getting tougher to finish this last stretch. This was because the stones and rocks on the ground were increasing, while the number of bamboo shoots were decreasing.
Han Li finally reached the point where there were no more bamboo shoots for him to use for support, and he slowly moved past this last stretch of road and overcame the first obstacle.
The moment he walked out of the bamboo forest, he could only see a vast expanse of land. In front of him was an incomparably huge, rocky mountain. On top of the gargantuan mountain were a few skinny kids, slowly climbing up the stone cliff along with a few senior disciples keeping a close watch on them. Han Li did not dare to hesitate any longer and rushed to make his way to the front of the huge rocky mountain.
The mountain consisted of layers and layers of sedimentary rocks stacked upon each other and appeared very eroded. In some places, the ground crumbled when touched. Of course, there were also solid slabs of broken stone, but finding them was extremely perilous as they would injure easily. After just a short while, Han Li's hands were already riddled with scrapes and gashes. At the same time, his clothes were torn and tattered around his knees, and the flesh and muscles hidden by his clothing were also scraped and injured. Although the wounds on his knees were small, Han Li gritted his teeth every time they came into contact with the jagged rocks; the pain almost more than he could bear.
Still, the few children in the lead were only climbing further and further away. Seeing the others ahead of him, Han Li refused to give up. The moment any thoughts of giving up flashed past his mind, images of his Third Uncle and his family would appear, giving him the motivation to carry on. With the memories of those he loved urging him to continue, Han Li relentlessly proceeded forward.
Before Han Li left for the Inner Disciple Examination, Han Li’s father and Third Uncle reminded Han Li that the test would be extremely tough. If he did not persevere to the very end, Han Li would have no chance of joining the Seven Mysteries Sect. At this moment, Han Li no longer cared about joining the sect. Instead, the only source of motivation pushing him forward was an unwillingness to give in and the urgency to catch up to the others in the lead.
Han Li raised his head and noticed that Wu Yan was currently the furthest in the lead. Wu Yan was older than Han Li and had even practiced martial arts; unsurprisingly, he had a stronger body compared to the rest of the children.
Once again, Han Li turned his gaze backwards and saw that he had surpassed quite a few children, many of whom were still rushing forward. Sucking in a deep breath, Han Li increased the speed of his ascent.
However, despite exhausting the majority of his strength, he still hadn’t shortened the distance between him and those in the lead. As the sun climbed towards the center of the sky, Han Li’s body got heavier and heavier, making it harder for him to reach the summit. In the meantime, Wu Yan had already reached the top of the huge mountain.
Near the summit of the hundred-meter-tall mountain was the incredibly steep Bone Refining Cliff. Over ten ropes, each with knots the size of a fist, hung from the top of the cliff. Wu Yan selected one and began to climb up the cliff.
Han Li gazed over at Wu Yan, who was in the lead, and felt resigned in his heart. He knew that he wouldn't be able catch up to those in the lead in the short amount of time that was left until noon.
The notion of failing was quickly erased by a burst of sudden pain that flared up from his injuries. The waves of fiery pain sapped the strength from his limbs, and feeling his body fall downward, Han Li frantically grasped a stone with one hand. His heart was beating erratically as he rapidly pasted his body onto the side of the mountain, not daring to make any sudden movements.
After a moment, he calmed down, using his hand to test the strength of the stone slab. Only after he determined it was secured in place did he manage to let go of his worries.
Looking downwards, Han Li saw that the lanky senior was in a half-squatting position with his arms extended out, preparing to catch Han Li if he fell. Seeing that Han Li was safe, however, the senior retracted his arms.
Han Li felt relief in his heart. If he really fell down the cliff, all of his efforts would have been wasted! After a short moment, he slowly inched forward and crawled towards the remaining ropes hanging down the Bone Refining cliff.
Finally, he arrived at the bottom of a rope. The sun had almost reached the center of the sky, indicating that there was only one hour before the time limit was up. At this moment, Wu Yan had already ascended the cliff and he turned his head to gaze at the remaining children. Just as Han Li was about to climb the rope, his gaze coincidentally met Wu Yan, only to see him giving a thumbs down gesture to the slower competitors. After laughing maniacally, Wu Yan continued onward.
With anger rising in his heart, Han Li grabbed ahold of the rope and began to climb.
However, Han Li had long since used up all his energy. Currently, even holding the rope tightly was a challenge for him, let alone climbing it.
Miraculously, Han Li managed to climb up to the first knot on his rope. Sitting on it, he felt as if his body had turned into cotton, unable to move a single finger. He turned his head and looked at all the children behind him. Some of them had already given up, sitting down on the stone mountain and breathing heavily. Like Han Li, they had exhausted all of their strength and were on the verge of collapsing.
Han Li could only bitterly smile; he had greatly underestimated this test. Fortunately, he wasn't among the last of the children. He looked back and saw the senior disciples’ cold gaze again, and after hesitating for a while he decided to carry on. Even though he had no chances of completing the test before noon, finishing late was better than hanging limp on a rope.
Han Li extended both of his stiff hands and used the strength he had recovered during his break to slowly try and climb up the rope. But at that moment, Han Li's hands stopped responding to his will; he even lacked the strength to maintain a grip on the rope. Han Li paused there and lingered for a moment before reluctantly deciding to remain there seated on the knot.