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The impurities grated at him, the feeling of a thousand grains of sand running through his insides. He could feel weakness throughout this body. Nyx had forgotten what it was like to be mortal, to detect time ticking away as his cells, in a constant state of flux, died and were born.

Although imperceptible to those without his keen sense, he could feel everything within. The beating of a heart not used to physical exertion in his chest. The slight murmur as he inhaled, pulling oxygen into his lungs. The vibration of the energy contained in his vessel was out of alignment.

Keeping his eyes closed, he began to draw it into a state of synergy. Hours passed, but with the resolved energy he felt better. The grinding of time still churned, but the minute levels of energy in his body flowed smooth.

Nyx opened his eyes, rays of morning light peeked through warped window blinds, pieces bent at odd angles with some of the blinders missing altogether. The sun cast shadows around the room in a striped pattern highlighting a pile of clothes on the ground, along with a well-worn rickety desk. He was seventeen again, the age he had been when his soul left Earth.

Memories he had long buried began to flood back to him brought on by the smell of mildew and the room he had once called his own. His lips turned down into a frown. It was early, and his foster parents were sound asleep in the adjacent master bedroom. Nyx pulled on the drawstring, opening the blinds. The sun was peeking through sparse trees in the gully behind the apartment.

At the bathroom, down the hall, Nyx grabbed a pair of clippers from where they sat by the sink. Plugging them in, he attached a five-guard. The clippers buzzed in his hand when he flipped on the power. He made sure to cut every part of his hair evenly.

After finishing he ran his fingers through, brushing away straggling hairs which floated down to join what was already in the sink. He had always kept his thick black hair shaggy back on Earth, but he couldn't remember why it had appealed to him, long hair was a nuisance. He was happy to have it in his eyes no longer.

Nyx looked at his appearance in the dirty mirror. He had a strong face, smooth well-proportioned features. His eyes were startlingly blue, the feature he had been most proud to inherit from his father. If he wasn't so damn skinny, he might actually look intimidating with the strength of his stare. Looking at his body, he had forgotten how thin and out of shape he had been on Earth. Standing around six feet, he had a large frame to fill.

Five-hundred years, that was how long it had been since he had last inhabited this body. Nyx nose crinkled at remembering how he had been a shut-in, feeling more comfortable alone. He had been filled with fear and depression. It had been the driving force that triggered him to find that gap in reality.

In the higher realm, Nyx had learned the levels of cultivation. There was a total of six including Basic, Shaping, Legion, Solidify, and finally Discharge, before entering the realm of Immortal cultivation. Each level had three layers. On entering the stage of Immortal Cultivation, the Chi would expand breaking the core, the body itself becoming infused with the essence, no longer needing to contain it within.

The apartment was quiet, Nyx quickly dressed in an ill-fitting tee shirt and athletic shorts he remembered having picked out of a Goodwill. Quietly he made his way down the hallway so as not to wake his foster parents. He avoided the dirty grey patches that dotted the tan carpet. At the kitchen, Nyx grabbed a spoon from an empty bowl with flakes of dried cereal plastered to the sides. He scooped a glob of peanut butter from a jar in the cabinet and washed it down with a glass of water.

He spotted an envelope sitting on the counter; it was a check the state had sent his foster parents. Bits of torn paper indicated where the letter had been opened, the money probably spent as well.

Nyx slipped on his raggedy sneakers then went out the front door. Taking a deep breath of the fresh air, he determined it was going to be a hot, muggy day. The sun was starting to peek over the horizon, but its heat was unmistakable. It was funny how his memories from the higher plane had already begun to fade. Like it had all been a long, vivid dream. The natural Chi, even though very sparse compared to the higher realm, was relieving to see. It cemented his memories from as real.

He looked over at the car parked at the end of the driveway, it was an old beater belonging to his foster parents. He remembered it was incredibly reliable, the kind of car people would buy to ship back to their families in developing countries.

At the apartment next to his, Nyx noticed two guys a year or two older than him struggling to lift an awkwardly sized couch. He could recognize them but had never interacted in the past. One was only slightly taller than him, with medium length brown curly hair and a round face and broad nose. The other was even taller but with a lanky build; he had the same color hair as his friend but kept a short haircut with a military fade. His features were sharp and reminded Nyx of a hawk.

He felt their eyes following him as he started his run. He wanted to get this body into shape as soon as possible. His feet plodded out a quick tempo, but he was quickly winded and had to slow back down. Nyx spat out a clump of phlegm that had loosened in his throat. His footsteps echoed on the cracked grey sidewalk.

He lived in a seedy neighborhood. The windows he ran by were boarded, with many of the walls covered in graffiti, a large red X was painted on a broken door hanging in its frame. It was early, so there were not many vehicles on the road, but now and then a car would pass by, never anything new or fancy. He made his way, jogging past rundown buildings on all sides. An elderly man sitting on his porch yelled something down at Nyx, but he could not understand the slurred speech.

Soon he had built up a lather of sweat from the exertion. A block further he remembered there was a seven eleven. He slowed his pace and loped up to the glass door pulling it open. A bell tinkled on a chain announcing his arrival. The clerk was an Indian man wearing a blue collared shirt with the franchises logo. He regarded Nyx with suspicion before assessing him to be harmless and turned back to what he had been doing behind the counter.

The clerk looked up when Nyx placed a bottle of water onto the counter. He swiped his debit card and asked the clerk to throw away the receipt. He walked toward the exit, and the water helped to rejuvenate him. Hand placed on the glass door he was about to leave when he heard a shout for help.

Two men had an elderly woman backed up against her old ford truck. They were split to both sides blocking her escape. One saw him at the glass door his eyes narrowing dangerously. There was a glint in them that Nyx had seen before. A look predators had when they began to stalk their prey. It was all he needed to see to know the duo would come for him next.

He glanced back at the store clerk and saw he was once again distracted. Nyx swiped a pen from a stand. His jaw muscles tightened as he contemplated his options, he had hoped for an uneventful first few days back on Earth. The doorbells jingled as he made up his mind and stepped outside, pen concealed at the back of his arm. He had to squint for a moment while his eyes adjusted to the sunlight.

His vision returning, one of the assailants with his stubby nose flaring, observed him. The man hit his partner on the shoulder, then motioned to Nyx. The long white scar running across his forearm glared in the sunlight. His partner turned his head seeing that someone new was at the scene. From the narrowed eyes and precise movements of the duo, Nyx knew they thought he was as an easy mark. The scar on the man's arm indicated he had seen a knife fight or two.

Nyx discretely surveyed the parking lot; a video camera's lens reflected the morning suns light just below the roof of the seven eleven. Nyx slouched and started to walk with an awkward gait. Moving towards the two assailants brought Nyx closer to the corner of the establishment. He took out his wallet pretending to be checking for money and stepped into the gloom around the building's edge. Footsteps followed him and he grimaced, he had been right. They took the bait.

Nyx turned to face the two hoodlums, shadows darkened their features as they walked into the shade.

"Why don’t we get this over with quickly," said Nyx, thoughts still on his workout.

"Just hand over your wallet like a good lad," said the bigger of the two, he had a broad piggish nose and an uneven haircut that looked like he had given himself. Nyx gathered he was the leader, his smaller accomplice stood to the side, eyes shifting around nervously before latching onto Nyx. Nyx straightened his back, shoulders relaxed, scowling with he hoped was a mean look.

The one Nyx dubbed Pig Nose sneered when he saw it would not be a simple matter to get him to comply. He pulled a knife from his pocket. It flipped open, long with a nasty serrated blade.

"Ain't nobody gotta get hurt."

Nyx circled away from the building's wall to give himself space to maneuver. He lowered his center of gravity, hands coming up revealing the pen. Pig nose’s eye glinted as he saw the would-be weapon, his face contorted into a grin revealing yellow crooked teeth.

"You think you’re tough kid?"

What was it with these thugs' constant chatter? Nyx moved, feinting in with his offhand, he had positioned the two so pig nose was blocking his accomplice. The leader took the bait stabbing with his knife, ignoring Nyx's arm, aiming for the side of his neck.

Nyx swayed to the side while stepping in around the knife thrust. Pig nose wobbled off balance, and the pen moved like a viper strike as Nyx drove it into the inside of the man's knife hand. The switchblade clattered onto the ground, Pig Nose screamed in pain. Nyx pulled him further off balance with his off hand while retracting the pen; the big man stumbled forward.

With a sharp upward motion, Nyx uncoiled burying the pen into Pig Nose’s soft throat. Wide-eyed, he slid to the ground choking, face turning purple. His hands clawed at his throat, finally dislodging the pen. Dark red blood began pumping out in-between his thick fingers as he struggled to stop it.

Stepping over the thrashing body, Nyx made eye contact with the second hoodlum. With a slight tremble, the smaller man looked back at Nyx, his breathing had quickened, eyes darting. The thug still had his knife while Nyx was weaponless. Like a cornered animal he moved with the speed of fear, blade thrusting out.

Nyx didn't move, but at the last moment, he palmed the thugs' wrist, diverting the knife. While shifting to the outside, his hand tightened like a vice. He made a figure four using his other arm, then twisted with downward pressure. A series of pops and crackles came from the man's joints as they started to give out. On his knees, he began to whimper.

"P-p-please, i-it was his i-idea."

The joint of the thugs' wrist and elbow broke with a loud snap. The man howled in pain, Nyx's eyes stared into his, he could see the despair in them.

He felt no pity or remorse, but his adrenaline pumped. Using the back of his hand Nyx pressed the knife down, and abruptly dropped his weight on it overcoming the feeble resistance. The blade sunk up to the hilt into the thugs' eye. The body twitched for a second, then flopped to the side stilling for good. A pool of blood gushed out creating a red puddle around the corpse.

Pig Nose was still thrashing around focused only on trying to get a breath. The gleam of a knife caught his eye, his knife. Slice. Darkness.

Nyx ripped off a piece of the brute's shirt and wiped down the knives handles. He grabbed the pen from the ground using the fabric and walked away from the alley and seven eleven distancing himself from the gory scene. After about half a mile he doubled back from a different direction the camera would not pick up. Thankfully the street was empty. Seeing a storm drain, he leaned over he dropped the evidence inside.

“It’s you, from before!” An old lady narrowed her eyes at him, craning her neck to get a better look at his face.

“I’m not sure what you are talking about.” He knew what she was talking about. It was the old woman he had lured the ruffians away from.

Not convinced, she hobbled closer. “It was a young man just like you, I swear it! On my husband’s grave.”

"Whoever you think I am, you are mistaken. Now I have somewhere to be," Nyx said quickening his stride.

“Thank you.” He heard the whisper as he passed by. She began to hobble back to her truck.

Two blocks from the apartment, he had taken quite the detour. Checking for cars he crossed the street, after following the road and taking the next left he was back where he started; the rundown apartments he used to call home. Nyx went onto the patch of withered brown grass behind the paint flaking walls of the building. It was more like a patch of packed dirt than a back yard. He decided it would suffice and worked his way through a complex set of exercises designed for combat he had perfected in the higher realm. He attempted handstand pushups but was too weak falling back to the ground.

As he went through the basic combat forms, he could feel the lactic acid building up in his stomach making him lightheaded and slightly queasy. He was able to execute many maneuvers, but the more complex flips and motions would have to wait until his body strengthened.

With the level of control he maintained, Nyx was able to stress every muscle to the maximum causing micro tears that would guarantee impressive results. It had been a long time since he had felt fatigue, the workout had boosted his spirit. Sweat soaked his clothing, but he still used the bottom of his shirt to wipe the water from his eyes and brow, staining it and even darker grey.

He calculated when he would begin cultivating. Although he could start now, the problem was the risk. If he tried to cultivate the demonic Chi immediately, he could be in danger of permanently damaging his body rather than strengthening it. Even a low ranking demon like a harpy or succubus which hadn't had much time to feed would be tricky for him to overcome.

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ROOQ

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