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Realistically speaking, it couldn’t have been more than fifteen hours since Neave had started fighting the demon. However, it felt like an eternity, even more so than the countless years he had spent staring at the demon.

He had probably looped well over several hundred times by now. Fighting the demon barehanded was a tremendously difficult task. The main problem was that Neave was just a child. Trying to fist-fight an adult-sized demon, not to mention, an adult-sized demon with supernatural strength, was just… Well, impossible. Maybe not impossible in general, but for him, it most certainly wasn’t a possibility.

At first, Neave would just rush at the demon and try to punch it. That was a failure that resulted in countless restarts. The main reason why was that Neave had virtually no reach. Or weight. Or physical strength. Or skill.

In fact, he didn’t have anything at all going for him.

While his absolute disadvantage was the main contributing factor to his failure to fight the demon, his stubbornness was the main reason why he was making no progress at all.

Neave was horrible at fighting, but it wasn’t like he didn’t know how to fight. He knew the theory. Even if you ignored the fact that he grew up in a martial arts sect, he had read many texts that covered the basics of hand-to-hand combat, even in texts that weren’t at all related to fighting.

But some stubborn part of him just refused to even attempt to borrow from that pool of wisdom, so he charged at the demon trying to figure everything out entirely on his own. When he eventually gave up on that, after over a hundred failed attempts, he conceded that actually striking the demon wasn’t entirely necessary.

So Neave, rather than focus on delivering the one-punch killing blow, decided to just dodge for a while. This too ended in many restarts,

But he was also seeing progress.

It wasn’t even that many attempts later, that his survival time went from seconds to minutes.

Eventually, after dying enough times, those minutes turned into hours.

It was only when he got too tired to think and lost concentration that the demon ended up hitting him. The demon wasn’t as clumsy as Neave thought it was initially. Its movements were burdensome and unwieldy, sure, but they weren’t random. It would be more accurate to say they were the opposite.

Everything about the demon’s movements looked like it was almost intentionally giving away what it was trying to do. From how it pulled its arms back, to how its torso rotated, to how it solidified its footing, all of it was always the same when the demon was doing a certain attack. The attacks themselves might have been fast, but if Neave knew what it was trying to do ahead of time, dodging the attacks became very simple.

The problem was counterattacking. Even if the demon overextended with a punch or swing and Neave found an opening, there was nothing he could do to seriously injure the demon without a weapon. He was starting to think his punches may be hurting him more than they are hurting the demon. He tried kicking too, but that wasn’t much better either.

For now, Neave didn’t care that killing the demon seemed off the table. There were a few things he was trying to achieve with barehanded fighting. The first thing he wanted to get good at was dodging. He was capable of dodging the demon's attacks, yes, but that didn’t mean he was good at doing it. Full-body throws to the side or just jumping back avoided the demon's wild swings, but that was far from the optimal way of doing it.

For now, he planned to learn how to dodge optimally, or at least well enough to move on to the second step of his plans.

***

Swing.

Dodge.

Thrust.

Dodge.

Swing.

Dodge

Neave’s vision was getting blurry. He thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, but he could swear that the demon's movements were getting slower. This was the longest he’d ever survived fighting the demon so far. Neave had no idea how much time had passed, but judging by his thirst and sheer physical exhaustion, it had been quite a while. Suddenly, his vision blurred and he dropped to the ground, losing consciousness.

Restart.

He was back at the beginning. However, he wasn’t sad or disappointed. He was thrilled. The absolute joy that filled him at this moment was the best feeling he’d experienced since he stepped foot into this hellscape.

I fucking did it!

He fought the demon until the exhaustion finished him off. Neave had valiantly fought and had not been hit even once up to the very end. Sure, the demon did probably finish him off after he lost consciousness, but that was beside the point. For as long he was awake, no matter his exhaustion, he had not been struck, he hadn’t been grazed even once. Not a single one of the myriad of attacks the demon had thrown at him had landed and Neave didn’t even move out of the demon's range of attack a single time.

Restart.

That one didn’t count, he wasn’t paying attention. Step one of his plan had been achieved and Neave was about to move on to step two. He had planned to fight the demon until it was exhaustion, rather than the demon, that finished him off, but he had noticed something peculiar. He was confident that the demon did truly slow down as the fight went on. So Neave added step one point five to his plan. It wasn’t even a step really, it was more of an experiment.

Neave wanted to see just how much he could exhaust the demon. If it was slowing down towards the end, that must mean it also had limited reserves of energy and Neave wasn’t going to glance over that potentially crucial detail. So he took a deep breath while waiting for the demon to approach him and then…

He dodged.

***

There were a few things Neave had noticed during his experiment. The first thing was that his initial achievement was more due to luck than it was due to skill. However, he had eventually gotten enough practice that he could replicate the ‘dodge until you die from exhaustion’ move consistently. The second thing he noticed was that the demon most certainly also had limited energy reserves. And Neave was getting much better at exhausting them. Not every move required the same amount of energy to dodge. The same thing went for the demon, not every strike took the same amount of effort to deliver.

Neave slowly formed a dodging style that capitalized on this. He would put his body into easy-to-maintain positions where he could execute relatively simple dodges while baiting the demon to attack a certain way. There were two things he was trying to get the demon to do. The first was to extend its reach. And the second was to chain as many attacks as Neave could dodge at once.

The first was important because it meant that the demon would either lean forwards or take an extra step. Both of these required additional muscles and energy to execute. The second was important because Neave could utilize the energy of his previous dodges, thus multiplying his opponent's energy expenditure while only adding a little extra effort into dodging.

And this was paying dividends. Far more than he had initially assumed it would.

The demon took a clawed swing at Neave with its right arm but he moved just a little backward. The demon then pressed the attack and thrust with its left arm, but Neave just added a bit more to his momentum to move just out of range.

However, rather than fully disengaging, Neave instead corrected his posture with his left foot and took a step forward with his right foot, walking right back into range of the demon. The demon straightened its claws and swung its right arm towards Neave’s head in a slash and when Neave dodged, it followed up with a slash from its left arm, leaning toward Neave.

Neave pivoted on his left leg, bending his torso just a bit to let the swing pass over his head, and then spun left underneath the demon's arms. The demon's right arm was in the perfect position to strike but Neave bumped his shoulder into its chest, using the knockback to dodge out of the way. It attempted another outward swing with its right arm after missing, but Neave was out of range.

The demon twisted its torso and thrust with its left arm, taking a step forward with its right foot, but Neave simply swung his head to the right. Its right arm was again in the perfect position to strike, but Neave swung his head further, beneath the strike.

He paused his head mid-swing seeing as the demon was planning on swinging its left arm again at his head, predicting where his head would be. As Neave paused it also paused for an instant and changed the direction of its swing to where Neave’s head was now, but as it changed its attack direction Neave moved his head again and dodged the strike.

Neave was starting to understand why so many people were crazy about martial arts. This was honestly a ton of fun. Truth be told, if he was back at his sect, virtually any disciple would still kick his ass with ease. The reason why was simple. They did martial arts. This demon, well, didn’t. A chop swing, a clawed swing, a punch, a thrust, and very rarely, a bite, were pretty much the demon’s entire repertoire. It didn’t even use its legs to attack.

It could get quite creative if Neave just stood and took it, but when he was actually trying to dodge, the demon never played around.

This fight was quite unfair. Besides Neave being immortal, there was another thing to keep in mind.

Tension.

When one was fighting a real fight with actual stakes, there was usually a lot of tension. All of one’s muscles were stretched taut and their blood pumped through their veins like a raging river. This naturally costs energy. However, while fighting this demon, Neave was under no stress whatsoever.

Not only did he perfectly understand his opponent, but the stakes were also virtually nonexistent. He wasn’t worried about making a mistake or hyper-alert about what his opponent was doing. This meant that Neave was expending several times less energy than he would be in a serious fight.

And the demon was sapping itself dry trying to get a hit on him.

Neave dodged and danced around, moving just barely out of the way of the demon's attacks. Whether by luck, chance, or by some intuitive improvement he hadn’t realized he’d made, he was doing a lot better this time than any other time before. And soon enough, the demon slowed down.

A lot.

It was as if it had reached some sort of breaking point and it was starting to collapse. Its swings were pathetically slow and had no energy behind them. Neave was also exhausted, but not near death levels of exhausted. And just a few minutes later the demon took a few feeble swings and swiftly collapsed.

Neave stared at it in shock.

“I did it. I fucking did it! Ha-ha! I’ve killed the demon and I haven’t even touched it once! Hahahaha!”

But something was wrong. He looked around and he didn’t see the two demons approaching.

A thought crossed his mind. What if the two demons didn’t arrive at all!? What if they were some sort of punishment for fighting dirty, rather than just something that happened when you killed the demon? So he looked around, looking for any signs that anything had changed at all. Had he done it? Was he done with the trial?

He was looking around like mad, trying to find any signs that he was right, but the only thing he saw was the demon shift a little on the ground.

Oh, it just isn’t dead yet.

He facepalmed.

So do I like… finish it off?

But how? He didn’t want to use a weapon, since he wanted to achieve victory barehanded. So he started kicking the demon's head. After kicking so many times his hip was beginning to seize, he was starting to realize that even unconscious, the demon was still far too tough to be killed without a weapon.

However, Neave wasn’t going to give up.

He instead bent down, grabbed the demon's neck, and started strangling it. That wasn’t working. Neave instead used his thumbs to press as hard as he could on the demon’s jugular veins. He was trying to kill it by denying blood flow to its brain. However, after several minutes of clamping down on its neck, he got a cramp in his finger yet the demon still wasn’t dead.

What now? Did he put his pride aside, grab a sharp branch and just cut its throat? Smash its head with a rock? Or maybe drag it over to a pit and throw it inside? That last idea would technically count as barehanded, right?

After staring at it and hesitating for a while, he was getting increasingly closer to giving up on the barehanded kill.

He was about to get up and go grab a rock.

Oh, but I could just do this.

He bent down and bit into the demon's neck. Blood gushed out.

Neave lifted his head and looked at the demon as the last vestiges of movement stopped. He stared at the blood, not even noticing the horrid taste.

What the fuck did I just do…?

He couldn’t believe it. For a second it was like he just turned into an animal and listened to his instinct. Then he heard footsteps.

He got up and smiled at the duo of demons approaching him, readying himself to see how his improvement measured up against them. Before he could even take a step, he fell to the ground and lost consciousness.

Restart.

What!? What happened?

Then he realized what happened and smacked his forehead several times in a row.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, its blood is poisonous! You just had to get bitey, didn’t you, you stupid animal!

It seemed that instead of swallowing his pride, he would rather swallow a mouthful of poison.

Brilliant.

Even his ridiculously overinflated ego could concede that he had proven his point or whatever else he was trying to do. He'd killed the demon barehanded. Or bare-toothed. Still, he technically did it without a weapon. Now he was going to move on to step two.

But he decided to just skip it instead.

Step two was supposed to be killing the demon barehanded. He had somehow managed to accomplish that on step one point five, however, so he considered that step to be done with.

Well, not really. The point of step two was supposed to be to learn how to fight with his bare hands, but he didn’t think he could do that. He didn’t see the potential to learn without feedback.

Sure, perhaps he could learn how to move or how to get hits in, but how was he supposed to know what attacks did what? Perhaps he could assume that a spin into elbowing the demon would be better than just a punch, but without seeing the effects of these attacks he couldn't learn a proper fighting style.

Restart.

Sigh.

Sometimes he got a bit too lost in thought. Oh well.

Step three was fighting with weapons. However, Neave flat-out refused to use whole branches. Not only were they brittle, but they were also insufficient. For someone of his build and size, there was really only one viable weapon.

He broke off two dagger-sized bits of obsidian and decided to use that as his weapon. Daggers were very dangerous, even in his hands. The reason why was that you could get a ton of leverage out of them and put a lot of your body weight into your strikes. And Neave needed every bit of force his tiny little body could muster.

He rushed at the demon and took a swing. The moment the dagger hit the demon, it slipped out of his hand. The demon took a swing and clawed his head right off his shoulders.

Restart.

It was true that he got to put a lot of force into his attacks, but it was also true that he had to somehow contain that force. And Neave’s pathetic grip strength just wasn’t enough.

So he took one of the daggers and tore the sleeves off his robe. He used the cloth to tie one of the daggers to his right arm in a reverse grip and the other one to his left hand in a standard grip. After fastening the makeshift bandages with his teeth, he charged at the demon.

The demon couldn’t touch him. At first, Neave’s attacks were clumsy and awkward, but soon enough he got the hang of it. Before he could realize what was happening he had delivered several deep strikes to the demon's neck, the inside of its thighs, and underneath its armpits.

Within less than a minute, the demon lay on the ground unmoving and Neave stared at it.

I did that…?

He started hyperventilating. He didn’t know why. This was good, he did so much better than he had expected, but he felt panic build up for some reason. Words, words he didn’t understand kept flashing through his mind for some reason.

Brutally overwhelming your opponent.

Restart.

He didn’t see the second wave of demons approach as they tore his spine out of his back.

That is what you must do, Neave. There is no mercy when facing an enemy. It will be either their death…

Or yours.

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Robert Blaise

Bio: Man do I love recursion. Man do I love recursion. Man do I love recursion. Man do I love...

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