Neave stood in front of the fourth-wave demons. His body was bloody, several of his fingers were shattered and he was already beginning to look drained of life force. He charged at the bulky demon and smashed its head off with a rather heavily lifeforce-infused kick. He dropped to the ground, drained of energy, his leg shattered and bloody.
Then he charged at the demon again and started yet another rampage.
Neave was angry. Interesting things, let alone exciting ones, happened extremely rarely in this hellish place. And just recently one of those things slipped through his fingers. When he accidentally shattered his spirit, he felt like he had experienced something.
Something unusual and he had to do it again to get a clearer image. The thing was, he didn’t know what he experienced. Even more frustratingly, he had this vague feeling that shattering his spirit again would be pointless. So he was using the excuse of ‘practicing his life force manipulation’ to blow some steam off.
After dying quite a few times, Neave decided that it was time to continue seriously exploring his options for recovering his spiritual perception. Back to the cultivation cave he went.
Now he conveniently had another option. He was very confident it would work. The way life force was used to recover from afflictions and injuries was similar to how it was used to enhance one's physical performance.
First, it was forced into the desired location, and then it was burned. The difference was, that one wasn’t allowed to move during the process. When it was done like that, instead of getting spent on movement or action, the life force was spent on recovery.
One thing Neave discovered was that some of this recovery still happens even if you moved. This just seemed like a waste of life force at first, so he used the same restriction technique to stop it from doing that. Then he had a thought. Why couldn’t he do the same thing, but the other way around?
He had already tried doing this for his body and the results were frightening. It was possible to seal a gaping flesh wound in seconds by restricting the life force only to recovery. Well, under the restriction that he had to grab it and manually close it with his hand first.
So he just did the same thing, but for his spirit. The difference between the body and the spirit was that the spirit was always ‘moving’. Or rather, it was always active in many different ways that eluded conscious control. So Neave simply restricted the life force from being spent on any sort of boost to anything. Then he put around one percent of his life force into his spirit.
He hoped this would result in the energy being used for recovery and not shattering his spirit.
And he seemed to be right. Some of his energy was spent and drained on something. Neave didn’t feel any different. But he knew a sure way to tell.
He took a deep breath.
Then he tried cultivating.
Immediately, countless thin strands of qi fluttered through his spiritual senses. He jolted his eyes open in alarm. Okay, that was far greater than recovering just a bit of his spiritual senses.
He chuckled in pure, unadulterated mirth. He’d done it. Neave succeeded in recovering his spiritual senses. He was just now realizing how tremendous this accomplishment was. It was true that the nature of this realm made incredible feats like this possible, but it didn’t make them easy. He could have just given up at any point of the journey and spent eternity staring blankly into nothing and getting killed over and over.
He gave himself a pat on the back. Literally. After all, he deserved it. But it wasn’t yet time to celebrate. The moment had finally arrived. Neave couldn’t help but still feel a tiny little bit of resistance toward the idea of cultivation. Then he grabbed that resistance and shattered it into a million bits.
Neave focused. He observed the strands of qi floating through his spiritual senses. He knew what all of them signified. A single, fluttering mote of light burned softly in the depths of his soul. This one was the potential of a single dagger strike. He reached out to it and grabbed it, then placed it into the center of his spirit. Then he grabbed the potential of dodging. The potential of strength. The potential of life force. The potential of dancing. The potential of…
Neave opened his eyes.
“Huh?” He muttered in confusion.
He died from something, but he couldn’t think of a single reason why that would have happened. So he went back to his cave and started cultivating again. Although he knew this would happen when he died, he still felt dismayed at the fact that he had to heal his spiritual perception again and also start from the beginning. But that dismay didn’t last for long. After all, if his spirit wasn’t also reset every time he died, shattering his spirit would have been the absolute end of him.
This time he sat down and cultivated again. He gathered the strands of potential, but at some point, perhaps after a few minutes of cultivation, he opened his eyes. It hadn’t been a few minutes. It had been days. And he was close to dying from thirst again.
“Oh, heavens damn it, fuck this shit!”
However, he knew exactly what was happening and he couldn’t help but sigh. Cultivation required one to sink into their spiritual senses to gather strands of qi. However, the body was still doing its own thing. Usually, young disciples, especially small children, couldn’t cultivate longer than a few hours. The reason why was simple; boredom.
While you did sink into your spiritual senses where the perception of time felt skewed, your body and brain were still feeling all the things they were usually feeling. Eventually, the feeling of boredom, thirst, hunger, or any other of the myriad distractions that occupied the mind ended up forcing people out of their concentration.
Neave was already completely used to ignoring all distractions including but not limited to the desire to sleep, boredom, bodily functions, hunger and even dying from thirst. But this was upsetting for Neave since it meant that he was slow at cultivating. Slower than he had hoped he’d be. But if there was any one thing he was used to doing by now, it was repeating the same thing over and over until he eventually got good at it.
Within his spiritual senses, Neave gathered the strands of qi and put them into his center. There he was building a small ball, a core, shining brighter than any star. The foundation upon which his body and spirit would grow. But it hadn’t formed. Not yet. It was still just loose threads of qi pressed together. They had not yet fused into a core. However, Neave could sense they were so, so close. He then reached out to a strand.
The potential of throwing an object.
But he felt it wouldn’t suffice. He was running out of time and needed something else, something with greater potential. He thought back to his life in this realm. To all he had seen, all that he had conquered. A concept flashed through his spirit and he saw a strand. This strand shone brighter than any of the other strands he had ever seen. And he grasped it.
He grasped the potential of perseverance. And then he placed it onto his core.
Neave opened his eyes. He was incredibly close to dying, practically knocking on death's door. Or rather, he had been. He watched as a bright golden mist enveloped his body, seeping into his every pore and nourishing every cell. Neave felt his skin tighten, his muscles harden, his bones toughen and his mind sharpen. Everything he was had suddenly expanded and grown to be more than its meager, mortal self.
He cackled. Then he laughed. It was a pure, joyous laugh, one with a great deal of irony to it. He felt he would cry too if he wasn’t so dehydrated. If someone had told him he’d be moved to tears by breaking into the foundation realm, he would have bitten them and called them an idiot.
He was still about to die. Someone in the foundation realm could easily live two weeks without water, but that was under the assumption they weren’t already about to die when they broke into the foundation realm.
Neave lamented the fact that he would lose this. He would die and go back to being a mortal once again. But he rejoiced at one fact. He would get to experience this feeling as many times as he pleased.
Neave was starting to get seriously tired of breaking into the foundation realm. He had already done it countless times. The problem was that he had to get fast enough at doing it to achieve it in under a minute. Or at least a few minutes. A mind-bogglingly fast breakthrough into the foundation realm. But one necessary for his progress. Well not strictly necessary but it was, well…
The problem was that he had to cut the suspension bridge to get some privacy from the demon. But that also meant that he was stuck on the other side of the ravine. Cultivators at the foundation realm may be more powerful than the overwhelming majority of mortals, but they were barely superhuman yet.
Being a cultivator at the foundation realm placed Neave around a bit over halfway to what a determined mortal could achieve through training. An adult mortal with a lot more muscle mass than Neave, that was. If Neave had the body of a well-trained adult, entering the foundation realm would mean kissing mortal limits goodbye for good. Unfortunately for Neave, a skinny, out-of-shape eleven-year-old boy couldn’t quite escape mortal limits yet.
Some of these mortal limits also sadly included the inability to jump over a long-ass ravine. This ravine was large enough that not even a well-trained adult could do it. Technically, Neave could make it across the ravine, if he used his life force that was. He tried and succeeded even. The problem was that it required too much life force and also shattered his knees. Which made it a little pointless, to say the least.
Neave could achieve the foundation realm in around a few hours at this point. Sure, he could run from the demon in a random direction, break into the foundation realm and then look for the demon, but that just sounded like a massive pain in the ass. So he decided he’d practice until he reached his desired goal.
The ability to break into the foundation realm before the demon could even reach him. The problem was that this was hard to achieve. More so than most things he’d tried to do so far. It became exponentially more difficult to shorten the time needed to cultivate the more progress he made.
So he decided to take another short break before he dedicated what would likely be years of work to achieving this goal.
Neave was surprised at how many things he wanted to try doing. He wanted to go exploring caves, climb mountains or even just run in a random direction to see what he found. He decided on doing a bit of dancing first since he thought he’d finally be able to do some of the more strength-demanding moves he wanted to try. He admired his newly improved looks in the mirror when he arrived.
With every improvement one made in cultivation, their face also got more beautiful. And Neave's face was already exceptionally attractive. Now he looked like some sort of idealistic doll, rather than a real human being. He wondered what he'd look like if he ever reached the diamond path. He shook his head and went back to what he was about to do.
He started dancing. And immediately noticed something… Strange. He winced as he moved around. His movements felt… Well, some of the movements he did felt alright, but others just felt… Gross.
He felt something unusual with his spiritual senses as well as within his life force. It was like his life force and qi were moving together with every movement he made.
The problem was that some of the dance moves he thought looked nice or cool just felt disgusting. There was a strange sense of incongruity in his body that made him feel queasy. He tried strong-arming his qi and lifeforce into staying put as he moved, but he felt this just made the awful feeling worse.
He was seriously contemplating just not breaking through to the foundation realm and going back to practicing as a mortal, but he eventually caved in and tried to listen to this weird new sensation. It was much harder than he initially thought. He found himself repeating the same movement hundreds of times until he finally felt satisfied with how it felt.
After doing this for a while he was beginning to notice something somewhat strange. When he let this feeling guide him, he felt that the movements he made were strangely… Efficient? Clean? He groaned. It wasn’t that. The sensations he felt through his spirit were still a new concept to him, so he struggled to put a finger on what he felt.
While he was practicing a certain series of moves, he noticed a very strange phenomenon. Everything felt right up until a certain point, where no matter what he did he just felt like something broke. Like no matter what move he did, it would never be the right one. He contemplated just moving on and trying something else, but he felt compelled to explore this further.
It was a dance move that required him to take two rather delicate steps and then jump. But the landing was the problem. No matter how he landed, one foot, two feet, on his head, after a backflip or a front flip or a spin or a diagonal double spin it just didn’t matter. The moment he touched the ground the sequence broke.
So he got the idea to try and imbue his foot with qi as he landed. This felt slightly less wrong, but he was still missing the exact move and the exact qi flow.
Eventually, however, he took a step forward, then a second step, and jumped. Neave lifted his arms slightly upward. As his qi-imbued foot touched the ground, the sensation felt perfect.
And he appeared ten meters in front of where he should have landed instead.