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Neave woke up lying on the ground just inside a small cave. He had no idea what happened or where he was. He shook and started frantically looking around.

Where am I…? A cave? Wait, I slept?

As with anything unusual that happened in this hellscape, Neave’s mind went through countless possibilities, good and bad. Was he free? Was reality breaking apart? What did that mean for him? Or did something change that would make things even more complicated? However, all of these questions were answered by simply stepping out of the cave.

Just outside the cave was the ravine. And just beyond the ravine was the demon. It was just standing there, watching Neave.

Why was it just watching him?

Neave noticed that the suspension bridge had been cut. He must have fled here and cut it before the demon could cross it, so now it was trapped on the other side. However, he simply had no memory of doing this.

Neave felt very good. He felt oddly refreshed and rested. Even though he was horribly thirsty.

Thinking about it now, he must have been exhausted. Well not physically, obviously, nor mentally… Well now that he thought about it not spiritually either. This time loop skewed his sense of reality in strange ways. Perhaps he had just been missing sleep. He hadn’t slept in a long time, after all. The last thing he remembered was…

Hmmm.

His memory was blurry, but he remembered feeling strangely anxious for some reason. Perhaps he was just losing his mind. He looked at the demon, walked over to the ravine, and jumped in.

Restart.

For now, he would do what he felt needed to be done. He tied the shards to his hands again and went back to work.

Now that he paid more attention to the fight, he realized that defeating the demon like this really wasn’t that difficult at all. It barely took him a minute. He still felt his movements were awkward, to say the least. Neave was excellent at dodging the demon's attacks, but whenever he had to throw a strike in as well his whole form just kind of fell apart.

He still didn’t get hit, but his dodging wasn’t the smoothest either. It didn’t matter however, he’d get better at it eventually. This time rather than bleeding the demon out, he ended up disemboweling it. Soon after it dropped dead to the ground.

For the first time, he had a serious fight with the demon duo. He felt that as long as he attacked them one at a time he should be alright. He rushed at the first demon, getting a good strike at its forearm and severing the veins on its wrist.

He felt a little bit more resistance to his strikes now, maybe they were a bit tougher as well? He dodged and weaved around the demon's attacks, keeping an eye on the other demon approaching him. However, the moment he looked away from the first demon, he felt something crash into his hip and violently throw him back.

It hit me…? How did it hit me? I was well out of its strike range…

Before he could get off the ground, the second demon approached Neave and then kicked him in the ribs.

Oh… These demons use their legs too, huh?

The second wave just got a whole lot more interesting.

Restart.

***

It took Neave a decent amount of tries before he finally got into a groove fighting the demons. They were significantly less of a pushover compared to the first demon. Not only were they tougher, but they were also stronger, faster, and had a bigger repertoire of moves. He realized rather quickly that a lot of the muscle memory, or rather soul memory, that he had built up in the fight against the first demon caused significant problems for him in the fight against the second wave of demons.

He had gotten used to utilizing his small size and nimbleness to dodge the demon's attacks by weaving close to its body and around its legs. The problem was that when he tried this strategy against the duo of demons, they just kicked him. And even if he dodged the kicks, he found himself in a suboptimal position for dodging other strikes.

Another problem was the fact that, while the demons arrived separately from one another at first, Neave only had so much time to kill the first demon before the second one cornered him. They both followed him in a straight line so eventually, they would end up being right next to one another. Dodging the attacks of one demon was hard, but dodging the attacks of two demons was torturous.

Neave had to pay attention to two enemies at once and on top of that also find ways to attack and fight back between all of the dodging. The only way he could attack without suffering counterattacks was by attacking the demons' hands and feet. This was currently his go-to strategy and plan for dealing with the two demons. The blood loss wasn’t enough to finish them off, but eventually, he could immobilize them.

While he had a solid plan and strategy, that didn’t mean that strategy was easy to pull off. The main problem was that he had to somehow attack the demon's arms when they took a swing at him. So not only were his targets traveling fast, but he also had to avoid getting his hands injured in turn or having his weapons shatter.

And they shattered very frequently.

Neave waited for the demon to take a swing with its left arm. The second demon was close by, but Neave had already injured it enough that it could only take limp swings at him with its left arm. The first demon pulled its arm back and thrust at Neave. Neave stepped to the left and stabbed the demon’s forearm, using its momentum to do the work for him. However, his dagger fractured and cut into his thumb almost deep enough to cut it off.

Brilliant.

Neave dodged back and disengaged from the fight. He looked around for an obsidian bush, shattered its branches, and picked a piece that seemed fine enough. He tied it back around his wounded arm, ignoring the pain, and stepped back into the fray. A hand injury like this one was rather crippling. He didn’t even know why he bothered with finding another weapon. It was very hard at best and damn near impossible at worst to do any damage if he couldn’t use his full grip strength. The bandages do help, but they were a stopgap solution at best.

He continued the fight but found himself getting pushed back more and more. The exhaustion was slowing him down greatly and the blood loss wasn’t helping. If a fight was going too poorly, Neave would sometimes just throw the fight and let the demons finish him off.

However, he felt that perhaps he could learn more from fighting on the back foot. It forced him to get more creative. Not to mention the fact that it also felt like a bit of a waste to throw a fight when this was the best opportunity to try new ideas and strategies. And one such idea just crossed his mind.

Neave quickly moved right in between the two demons. Before he even reached where he wanted to be, the second demon was already preparing to kick him. The first demon pulled its only usable arm back and swung at Neave. Neave however ducked and stepped to the right, dodging both the kick and the swing.

While the kick awkwardly fluttered in the air, the swing hit the other demon right across its chest. Neave added to the strike by sinking a deep reverse grip stab into the demon's abdomen, pushing it down to the ground in the process. The other demon pulled its arm back again, preparing to thrust at Neave, but he dodged to the left and took a risky step forward.

While the demons kicked him if he stepped in range, kicks weren’t a viable option if their center of balance was already too far forward. Neave capitalized on this moment of weakness and landed a shallow blow to its neck.

He lamented his weak body and exhaustion as the demon regained its balance and kicked Neave’s side. Neave felt something crack, but rather than getting flung away, he held onto the demon’s leg and delivered a cut on the inside of its thigh. Blood gushed out of the wound and the demon pulled its leg back. Neave, who was holding onto the leg, got pulled down to the ground and hit the soil with a thud.

The demon kicked him away. He felt something crack in his torso again, but the kick was relatively weak. The demon was probably bleeding out. As Neave lay on the ground, unable to get up from his exhaustion and injuries, the demon fell to the ground and died. The other one had never even gotten up after getting struck in its stomach.

Step…

Step…

Step…

Neave heard footsteps again. He glanced around and this time, three demons were walking toward him. He remembered these three. But there was something he hadn’t noticed the first time he saw them.

Neave already understood the basics of things like posture. There was no clumsiness to be seen in the stride of these demons. They walked exactly like martial artists.

Restart.

Neave didn’t start fighting again. He turned around and went for a stroll. There was a problem he needed to solve first. The third wave of demons meant serious business. Neave however, was dismally underequipped to deal with them.

His weapons were plain terrible. He had seen all sorts of clearly metallic spikes lining the bottoms of pits and ravines, but… He was incapable of dropping into the pits to get these spikes. Not to mention that even if he could reach them he didn’t like his chances of managing to pull them out of the compound stone lining the walls. He had to manage with what he had.

However, this didn’t mean he was out of ideas.

He picked up a large rock with both hands and flung it at an obsidian bush. Rather than picking up one of the shards, he continued shattering every bush he came across. After taking a turn behind a large rock he encountered something he hadn’t noticed before.

A very thick-looking obsidian bush was growing out of what also looked to be solid obsidian. He threw the rock at it, but the rock just chipped a few pieces out of the outer branches and got stuck between them.

Neave raised an eyebrow. Then he threw an even larger stone. He had grabbed a few of the dagger-sized shards that got chipped off and inspected them. He tried breaking them in different ways, like smashing them with a rock, throwing them at a rock, or striking a rock with them and he found that this material was many times tougher than the usual obsidian shards.

Now he had a more reliable weapon. So he grabbed the shards and tied them to his hands. Then he got another idea. He dipped his hands into some of the back tar, letting it solidify on the bandages. This not only added a bit of extra weight to his hands, but it also made sure the daggers weren’t going anywhere. It was time to continue.

***

After a period of trial and error with the second wave, Neave had gotten into practice executing his strategies. However, as he fought the third wave he began to realize how inefficient his second-wave strategy was. The third wave of the demons was a massive step up in difficulty from the second. These demons not only fought as capable martial artists, but the added third demon and extra power made it damn near impossible to fight against them.

However, for Neave, the third wave quickly went from a curse to a holy blessing from the heavens themselves. After all, it was like he had gained three masters to teach him martial arts. These three demons all had slightly different fighting styles. One was very aggressive, the second one was very defensive and the third was cautious and very good at counter-attacking. While he was making slow progress with the third wave, his speed at dealing with the second wave was increasing rapidly.

After observing the first of the three, he had learned a few very good moves for procedurally overwhelming his opponents. Block by attacking, attack after blocking, and then press the attack further rather than dodge. Even though Neave knew the demons tended to block attacks to weak points like major arteries, for some reason it just never occurred to him that they would choose to block rather than strike. Once he learned this, the second wave became almost laughably easy. He dispatched the first demon before the second one could even get close to him and then he just dispatched the second one as well.

The demon that fought defensively didn’t have all that much to teach him. Defensive fighting like that was a luxury for Neave, who lacked the strength and endurance to fight prolonged fights.

The third demon however was a wonderful teacher. Out of all three of them, Neave found himself referencing its moves most often. Even though the aggressive demon gave him the most trouble, the cautious one was always Neave’s first target. It was a nasty little thing, attacking when Neave was cornered, or forcing Neave to dodge in ways that set him up for attacks by the others.

Even though Neave was learning rapidly, the third wave took him a mind-boggling amount of time. It was possibly as many as ten thousand attempts later and he still hadn’t beaten the third wave.

There was a lot of work to do. Just getting more skilled wasn’t enough. Neave had limited strength and stamina. This meant that he had to also, on top of learning how to fight, learn how to use his body most optimally as he could. At some point, he was starting to believe he was getting stronger. Some of the things he could do should be impossible for someone of his strength.

He had spent a good amount of time just trying to figure out why this was. What appeared to be happening was that he was somehow sacrificing his stamina in return for strength. Neave had read about certain individuals exhibiting extraordinary force when under pressure.

It was theorized that the body had mental limits in place to prevent self-inflicted injury. And his best guess was that he was somehow removing these limits subconsciously. It was a pretty good guess, too, since it was apparent that he was wearing himself out much faster than he used to.

It was only when he realized this and learned to control it that he could finally defeat the third wave and move on.

The fourth wave, however, was even worse. Rather than four it had five demons, all of whom were even more specialized than those in the third wave. A suicidally hyper-aggressive demon, a coward demon that just ran away and threw rocks from afar, a tricky bugger that used the environment to fight, a bulky demon whose attacks were easy to read but exceptionally difficult to dodge, and a slender demon that just seemed to be insanely agile and skilled at martial arts.

Neave refrained from using things like the environment to fight. He wanted to learn martial arts and not scumbag arts after all. But the fourth wave made him toss his already loose morals aside completely. After countless attempts, Neave didn’t even have the vaguest estimates for how long it had been. The first, second, and third waves were already finished in less than a minute by now. And he wasn’t fighting the fourth wave fairly. Not even a little bit.

***

He was back at the start of the loop. Neave slowly prepared his plans. He secured his weapons and then walked over to the suspension bridge. The first demon walked up to Neave as he patiently waited for it to arrive.

He ran up to the demon and slowed down a bit as it prepared to take a swing at him with its right arm. Neave stepped just a bit back letting the strike fly millimeters from his neck. Then he used his right arm, the one with the reverse grip on the daggers to strike at the demon’s forearm, sinking the dagger right between the radius and ulna bones and then pushing the demon’s arm further right and pulling just a bit back.

As the demon lost its balance he thrust the left-arm dagger at the demon's neck, finishing the fight almost instantly. Before the demon had even bled out, Neave was already running to where he knew the second wave of demons would arrive. They always arrived the same distance away from him, but if he was already running in their direction, that distance shrunk rapidly.

Neave ran toward a demon and almost got a nasty kick right to the chest, but instead, he sank to his knees and glided between the demon’s legs, cutting both thighs and severing both of its femoral arteries.

He smoothly got back up to his feet, stabbed the demon in the back with the reverse grip before it could turn, and as it turned its head a bit he jumped and used the left dagger to dig its throat out.

Neave ran toward the second demon. It lunged at him, spreading its arms out, trying to close off his escape. Neave however planted his feet, brought his two daggers together, locked his knees, tightened his calves, perfectly straightened his back, and pushed the daggers at the demon’s neck, cutting its entire head off. Not very cleanly, but cleanly enough given his rudimentary weapons.

The third wave of demons arrived instantly and Neave immediately ran toward the cautious one. It tried to feint Neave and aimed for his eyes, but he just slightly redirected its arm with the left dagger and sunk the right one into its stomach, disemboweling it before it could even retaliate.

The demon didn’t immediately die, but this wasn’t a problem for Neave. He just kept up his run, jumped onto the demon, and then kicked off its chest into a backflip just as the aggressive demon rammed straight into the cautious one.

On his way down, Neave pressed onto his right arm with his left and used all the leverage he could to stab the aggressive demon in the heart through its back. He turned around immediately and started running toward the defensive demon. It took a few moves, but he managed to damage its arms enough to break its block and run its throat through with the dagger.

Then the real fight finally began.

Neave had tried countless strategies against the fourth wave. This time he was certain he had the perfect one. He ran after the cowardly demon and it fled over the suspension bridge. Then he paused, dodged to the right and the hyper-aggressive demon flew through the air where he was standing a second ago.

Neave ran towards the bulky demon as it prepared to swing its massive hand at him. It was extremely obvious what it was trying to do, but attempting to dodge the attack was futile the moment you stepped into range. Neave however did something extremely unexpected.

He just went limp and dropped beneath the demon's feet. The bulky demon took a swing just as the hyper-aggressive demon flew up from right behind Neave. It received a smack that sent it flying like a javelin. Neave was already getting up and leaving as quickly as he had fallen since he didn’t want to be within range of the next attack.

The bulky demon lifted its leg and smashed the ground so hard that the shockwave knocked Neave back like a ragdoll. Neave lost his hearing, but he didn’t need it anymore. The skilled demon flew at Neave through the cloud of dust and began striking, while the cowardly demon threw rocks at Neave from beyond the suspension bridge.

The tricky demon was watching the fight from a short distance.

For now.

Neave redirected the first two strikes and simply dispatched the demon by striking its weak points several times and bleeding it out. Ironically, the skilled demon was the one Neave had the easiest time dealing with. He just had to become more skilled than the demon was.

Neave turned around and ran out of the cloud of dust toward the suspension bridge. The bulky demon roared and sprinted toward Neave, making the earth shake with every step. Neave ran onto the suspension bridge. As the bulky demon stepped onto it as well, he heard the creaking sounds of the old rope and planks being stretched taut.

Neave ran up to around two-thirds of the bridge then jumped down and grabbed onto the planks. Just in time for the suspension bridge to start falling into the abyss. The tricky demon stood on the side that Neave had come from, holding the obsidian branch it had used to cut the ropes.

The bridge plummeted and Neave smacked into the side of the wall as he held onto the severed bridge, while the bulky demon descended, crashing through the spikes and getting torn to shreds.

Neave steeled himself as he prepared to execute the most difficult part of the plan. The cowardly demon threw rocks at him from above, ones that he redirected to the best of his ability with one of his arms as he desperately held the bridge with the other. The tricky demon screamed at Neave and threw the obsidian branch at him, which Neave just barely deflected, and then started pelting him with rocks as well.

Neave was cornered, hanging onto the bridge for dear life. The tricky demon was entirely out of range now as there was no way to cross the ravine without the bridge.

Luckily he didn’t have to.

The suicidally aggressive demon ran up behind the tricky demon and it lunged at it, pushing it and itself into the ravine. Neave however gritted his teeth and prepared for the next rock to be thrown down by the cowardly demon.

As he saw the stone drop down toward him, rather than deflect it, Neave reached out to it with his right arm. The rock crashed into his right arm, shattering the bones in his forearm, but Neave pushed for dear life and managed to trap the rock between his shattered arm and his head. Then as the suicidally aggressive and tricky demon both flew through the ravine, the aggressive one grabbed the tricky demon mid-air and jumped off its plummeting body to make it to Neave.

But Neave was prepared.

“Die you fucking piece of shit!” He screamed, blood gushing from his mouth as the rock shattered one of his teeth on impact.

He threw the rock at the aggressive demon, hitting its head and halting its momentum. Then he watched it flail as it too joined its brethren in the dark pit of the abyss below. But it wasn’t over yet. Neave painstakingly and patiently climbed the collapsed suspension bridge as the cowardly demon threw rocks at him.

He used his limp, shattered arm to soak the impacts as he relentlessly climbed upward. By the time he was a few steps away from making it, the cowardly demon tried grabbing him and pushing him into the abyss below. Neave pushed his shattered right arm over a plank to hold himself up and thrust his left arm at the demon, cutting its middle finger off.

It wailed and began running as Neave made his way to the top of the ravine and stepped onto solid ground. The demon kept pelting him with rocks, but he blocked them.

After what felt like an eternity of slowly chasing after the demon, Neave was getting dangerously close to dying. The cowardly demon just kept running from him and throwing rocks. Suddenly, Neave turned.

He stepped into a nearby cave and just waited there. The demon looked at him cautiously and picked up another rock. A drop of dark ooze fell on the ground in front of it. Then another. And another. It panicked and ran away as a rain of black ooze started pouring from the skies.

Neave waited in the cave.

After the rain stopped, he stepped out onto the already solid black ground. He found the cowardly demon, encased in a black coffin, desperately trying to shatter it to escape on time.

“It’s finally over.” Neave breathed out as he stepped towards the demon, putting an obsidian dagger through its throat and watching it slowly die from blood loss.

Then he turned around and paused. He saw another demon. However, it wasn’t like anything he’d seen so far. It was holding a shield. From the corner of his eye, he saw the second one, running toward him, holding a great sword. And he only saw the third demon holding the bow after he saw the arrow poking out through his chest.

Restart.

Neave stood there, catatonic once more.

Restart.

There was no way in hell he could defeat the fifth wave.

Restart.

After all, he was too weak. And they had actual weapons.

Restart.

By the end of the fourth wave, no matter how well he played his cards, he would always be far too exhausted to keep fighting

Restart.

It was already a damn miracle he could do this much.

Restart.

What else could he do?

Restart.

There was no other option.

Restart.

He froze and stood there as the demon planted another strike right on his forehead.

Restart.

Restart.

Restart.

Re- No. Dodge.

There was still one option. It was a stupid idea. The odds of it working were negligible.

But he had to try.

He walked to the suspension bridge, cut it before the demon could even reach it, then walked into the nearby cave, sat down…

And started cultivating.

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About the author

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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