Neave looked down at his feet. Then back to the mirrors. Then back again at his feet.
Did… Did I just teleport?
He did the same thing again. And appeared around ten meters ahead of where his foot touched the ground.
Oh heavens. I’ve just teleported.
Neave knew about movement techniques. But movement techniques were fast dashes at their absolute best. Was this just an impossibly fast dash as well? He approached a nearby obsidian bush.
Neave was about to do the same thing and see whether he will appear behind the bush… Or get shredded to bits.
And he appeared behind the bush. Then he repeated the same thing with a large boulder. And he appeared behind it as well.
Neave was exceptionally confused. How had he possibly managed to do this? He yet again had to ask himself whether the realm he found himself in was simply governed by different laws of reality. After all, he had never heard of someone who could teleport without a spirit power. And it was only something insane like a legend golem that could provide a monster core holding such a power.
If he returned to his sect and displayed this ability, he would probably be hailed as a once in a thousand years prodigy of his sect. Hell, he was confident that even his stepmothers would kiss his ass if he asked them to. After all, being able to do this was, well, a miracle. Neave couldn’t help but wonder exactly what else he was able to achieve. So he went back to the mirrors. And he once again started dancing.
Neave had a habit of getting incredibly carried away. After his initial discovery, he spent a lot of time trying different movements.
Far too much time.
At first, he didn’t feel like it had been that long, but then he realized something. Given that he first achieved the foundation realm and then started doing his dancing he must have had at least a week's worth of time until he died of dehydration.
The body of somebody within the foundation realm was significantly more durable than the body of a mortal. Neave believed that he used to only have around a day before. Now he must have at least a week. That would explain why he felt like he was improving at an impossibly fast speed. He was still assuming he had the same amount of time as he used to.
It seemed strange to Neave that he’d make such a mistake. After all, how couldn’t he tell the difference between a day or a week passing? But the more he thought about it the more sense it made.
He’d realized several things about the perception of time in general. The first thing he’d learned was that the actual amount of time that had passed was mostly irrelevant. The thing that mattered the most was what information Neave could use to extrapolate how much time had passed. And he had built the assumption that from when he started his dancing to when he dropped dead lasted only around a day. It could be less or more, but that was his estimate. Now that he was in the foundation realm, he still felt like the same amount of time was passing, even though the time it took was several times longer.
At the end of the day, these were simply idle thoughts. The reality of it was that Neave just didn’t care how much time was passing. After all, he was having a ridiculous amount of fun.
Neave had discovered hundreds of different possible movements that achieved all sorts of incredible results. Anything from dashes to jumps to blinks to slides, he even discovered countless so-called footing techniques. The single most impressive one he had discovered was the ability to walk on liquid surfaces. He theorized that it may also be possible to walk on thin air, but he had concluded that was something only really possible with more power. The reason why he made this assumption was simple. He had already discovered several movement techniques capable of dashing in the middle of the air, but they were incredibly intensive and require a drastic amount of concentration.
Eventually, he started running out of discoveries, which was incredibly disappointing.
It wasn’t just disappointing either. Neave was quite confident that he was addicted to discovering crazy new possibilities. Since he had stopped finding new movement techniques, he had been experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Neave would shake, break out into cold sweat and feel sick if he didn’t make progress for a while.
And now these withdrawal symptoms had pushed him into doing something… Utterly insane.
There was a type of movement that could usually be executed only at the golden path. There were records of it being achieved as early as the bronze path, but those occasions seemed to be mostly a coincidence. Neave was standing and just punching in front of him. He took a stance and punched. Then he did it again. He repeated this movement countless times.
Neave had somewhere along the lines concluded that his unusually powerful perception of qi and life force was the reason why he felt this intuitive guidance to his movements. But compared to executing even the most difficult movement techniques he’d done so far, the thing he was attempting was far more complex.
The problem was that he didn’t sense any wrongness with his punches. Whenever he punched it felt fine, mostly. He did however feel a rightness with his punches. Some punches were better than others, but this was a minuscule difference. Neave was exceptionally disappointed to find out that for some reason, his intuitive senses didn’t work on other types of qi techniques.
Attack and defense techniques worked a little differently from movement techniques. Movement techniques weren’t simple by any means, but they were much more straightforward to practice, at least for Neave.
The target of movement techniques was one’s own body and the space it traveled within. These two were always exactly or at least mostly the same. The targets of attack and defense techniques on the other hand were opponents and their attacks. These could take infinite different forms. There wasn’t a right or wrong way to attack an opponent or block their strikes.
After all, different types of opponents and attacks required different types of movements.
One couldn’t use the ‘exact same punch’ on two different targets to the same effect. Punching someone shorter than oneself could mean punching them in the face while punching someone taller could mean punching them in the stomach. Or even lower than that. The punch was the same either way, but the result was entirely different.
So Neave had reluctantly taken a break from attempting to learn qi techniques on his own. He hoped he’d be able to figure at least some of them out, but martial arts and cultivation manuals were as valuable as they were for a reason. And Neave hated that he never 'lowered himself' and just fucking read one. It took the work of generations of cultivators to figure out enough qi techniques to make an actual path out of them. Neave was arrogant, but even he didn’t believe he could achieve something like that without a ton of work.
But he wasn’t attempting to. Not yet at least.
Neave was attempting something different. It wasn’t strictly a qi technique, even if it did require qi to execute. The reason why it didn’t count as a qi technique was that it didn’t consume any qi. Nor did it cause any fatigue to the individual that executed it.
Neave took a stance and then threw another punch. This time, he felt something unusual. It wasn’t rightness or wrongness, but it was rather more like resonance. So he kept repeating that same punch. He changed his footing, his torso rotation, which muscles he focused on, and just kept looking for more of that feeling.
Then he straightened his back and took a stance. He stepped one foot forward and it landed with a resonant thud. His torso rotated, but it felt like he was making the entire world revolve around him, rather than the other way around. As he pushed his arm forward, bright, shining golden runes appeared out of thin air around him. And he finished the punch. It made a cracking sound as the air imploded in front of his fist and he could see the gust of air pushing dust and debris away from him.
A true strike.
He had executed a true strike at the foundation realm. He smiled like a lunatic. Neave’s eyes rolled back in pleasure.
“That’s the stuff.”
There was nothing quite like achieving that breakthrough.
Neave immediately expended all of his life force to kill himself.
After all, he had a job to do. He needed to cultivate until he could break into the foundation realm in less time than it took the demon to reach him. Because he absolutely couldn’t wait to try his new strategies in combat.
Neave stood in front of demon one with his eyes closed, deep in concentration. Just as the demon was about to reach him, he opened his eyes and dodged the incoming attack. Golden mist enveloped his body and he broke into the foundation realm. Then he took a stance and threw a punch. The demon's ribs cracked and it flew back a bit, thrown by the force of Neave’s strike.
Neave clicked his tongue and expended his life force.
He had managed to achieve his goal of breaking into the foundation realm before the demon could reach him. It took him an ungodly amount of time. He doubted he could have powered through it if it wasn’t for the skewed sense of time he experienced when cultivating. And now he was just trying to execute a true strike against the demon.
To his immeasurable disappointment, it was so much more difficult to do than he was expecting. After all, executing a true strike against empty air and hitting an opponent were completely different concepts.
True strikes were notoriously rarely seen in actual combat. Opponents rarely allowed someone to set one up. Even cultivators on the diamond path knew only up to a dozen or so different true strikes. But they weren’t always the optimal move to make against an opponent.
Neave had read a book that talked about true strikes. The author made a comparison to chess. True strikes were like a check. If it wasn’t a checkmate it could even be a mistake. It took a whole lot more to checkmate someone than it did to check them.
This wasn’t the problem Neave was having right now. The thing that was making it difficult for Neave was just timing. True strikes happened when one perfectly, or close to perfectly matched the free movement of qi through their body to the movement of their spirit. Well, Neave had to replicate that feat, which was accomplished through no small amount of luck, mind you, while also focusing on timing the attack properly against his opponent.
And this wasn’t particularly easy.
Neave kept attempting to do the true strike since he desperately wanted to see what it would do against the demon. Taking on the later waves was secondary to seeing his cool new move in action. So he kept trying and trying until eventually, his foot landed with that same resonant thud.
Demon one, or as Neave sometimes called it, Jillean, exploded in a rain of guts, limbs, and gore as Neave’s punch landed on its midsection. Neave quivered at the sensation.
That was so worth it.
Now, as wave two started approaching, he stretched his arms a bit and got to work. Then he paused as he realized he didn’t have a weapon, so he took a moment to go grab his trusty obsidian daggers. Then he went back to the demons and looked down at the daggers.
Should I tie them to my hands?
Whatever, fuck it.
He threw the daggers away and fought the demons with his bare hands.
Neave faced the bulky and cowardly demons. He was relatively uninjured so far. The hyper-aggressive demon got a beautifully timed kick to its head, the skilled demon had its neck twisted and snapped and Neave just picked up and threw the tricky demon into a pit out of spite. The cowardly demon was standing a bit away and throwing rocks. Neave took a few steps forward and appeared behind the cowardly demon.
Neave’s hand met with the demon’s spine and the satisfying crunch made Neave feel like things were finally right. He then faced the bulky demon. Neave hadn’t used any life force so far except what he needed to fix his spiritual senses. But he wasn’t particularly confident he could take the bulky demon out without a weapon or without burning any life force. However, he was most certainly going to try.
Neave twisted in place and jumped over ten meters into the air. Then he spun around, swinging his arms and straightening his leg out. Suddenly, he flew forward at incredible speed, his foot meeting the bulky demon's head. Neave felt the excessive strain on his knee and cursed his still rather weak body.
The demon was thrown back a bit, but it lifted its arm to attempt to grab Neave’s leg. Neave however twisted his other leg, pressed it into the demon’s face, and went flying away from the demon. He fluttered his legs and the speed at which he was falling slowed down just a little bit, allowing him to land with relative grace.
Neave knew that this wasn’t going to be an easy challenge. But he gritted his teeth and ran at the demon again. The demon's attacks were very well-telegraphed and easy to read, but the moment it started its attack, it could move at frightening speeds.
This used to be a problem for Neave. Now it no longer was. But the demon was just so tough.
Neave however hadn’t given up. He kept jumping at the demon, trying to focus his strongest attacks on its head. He could only barely enhance his attacks by expending extra qi, but he avoided doing this. Using qi without a proper technique was just a massive waste. It wasn’t worth the investment.
He still hadn’t spent any of his life force, his pride wouldn’t let him resort to that. Eventually, while dodging a kick Neave used a sliding movement technique to move behind the demon's back. Then he took a step forward. To even his surprise he felt the resonant thud of a true strike. His fist hit the demon's massive hamstring and he could feel its femur shattering into countless bits. The rippling of the flesh looked like a stone dropped into a pond as the force of the strike dissipated in a wave. The demon fell over to the ground, gushing tons of blood out of its shattered leg.
Then it died.
And Neave turned around. He had forgotten this feeling.
Neave could finally seriously attempt to defeat the fifth wave.
As he sprinted at the swordsman demon, it took a swing, but Neave sidestepped it and punched its face. The punch wasn’t even close to being as effective as Neave predicted it would be. Before Neave could recover and change his strategy, the demon’s sword was enveloped in a green mist. An arrow flew into Neave’s back and out of his stomach as the swordsman demon executed a qi technique and bisected Neave head to toe.
Neave stood back at the start. He wasn't angry or disappointed. Rather he was smiling. An ominous smile was plastered on his face from ear to ear. He grabbed the daggers. He faced the demon.
Red, flickering embers lit up around him as he ignited his life force.