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Neave had initially believed that letting loose and using his life force will make the fifth wave easy. He was sorely wrong. Even with weapons he still failed to beat the fifth wave at first. The main problem was that these demons had exceptional teamwork. They used the simple strategy of swordsman chasing Neave, shieldsman covering the archer, and the archer pelting Neave with arrows. If that’s all they were doing, however, Neave wouldn’t be suffering this much.

He had attempted several times to just skip over the shieldsman and kill the archer first. However, the archer seemed to have a supernatural instinct for what Neave was about to do. Before Neave could even make it to the archer, it was already jumping back over the shieldsman. It was quick, too, but it honestly didn’t even need to be particularly fast.

It never moved far from the shieldsman, after all. Getting to the other side didn’t take more than a single jump.

Neave gave it quite a few attempts, but after a while, he was starting to get rather frustrated. He had tried using movement techniques to get to the archer, spending life force to brute force past the shieldsman, he even tried just letting them tire themselves out. It always felt like he was losing on technicalities or making stupid mistakes.

He appeared behind the sword demon. The demon wasn’t attacking in that direction, but it just happened to be pulling its sword back into a swing. And Neave moved right into the path of the sword.

Restart.

Neave used a movement technique to dodge the swordsman. And moved into the path of an incoming arrow.

Restart.

Dashed and bumped into the shield demon.

Restart.

Used a movement technique to get into the air, where he effectively became a clay pigeon as the archer nailed him right in the head

Restart.

Failed a movement technique, got impaled.

Restart.

Failed a true strike, suffered a counterattack.

Restart.

Tripped. Somehow miraculously recovered. And then failed to dodge the sword.

Restart.

Again and again, he kept making idiotic mistakes. And he couldn’t comprehend why he kept failing like this.

He found himself in a fight where he attempted to use a movement technique to dodge an attack and put himself in a position to use a true strike. He simply failed to connect the steps.

It was only then that it hit him. He quite literally could have just jumped forward and achieved the same result. It was true that he had the power now. But dear heavens did he suck at utilizing it. Worse even was the fact that he kept stubbornly trying to fight by chaining as many complex steps as possible, but this was rarely necessary.

He took a step back. He would develop a proper fighting style without any of the complex stuff first. Then he would slowly add movement techniques and true strikes to his repertoire.

It was time to go back to the start. Step one. Dodging.

***

Neave fought his way to the fifth wave as efficiently as he could. Simple strikes straight into weak points. And then when he reached the fifth wave, he dodged.

This time, however, he wasn’t practicing dodging the same way he practiced it with Jillean. Rather than just focusing on not getting hit, Neave was trying to always be in the best position to strike.

He didn’t just dodge the attacks that came flying his way, he also moved to exactly where he believed he would be in the optimal position to strike.

All that he was doing was maintaining that position as long as he could.

Neave had done a lot of work trying to optimize his use of movement techniques. The thing that he’d noticed was that only some of the movement techniques, or rather, less than twenty of the ones he had learned were any good. The rest were either too specialized, redundant, or just bad.

There were some among the specialized ones that he believed he might be able to use in certain scenarios, but those made for only a handful of techniques. He’d counted all of the techniques he knew and there were four hundred and seventy-seven. That meant that only less than five percent of the techniques were any good. It didn't necessarily feel like a waste since it was too many to even really use effectively.

If any experienced cultivator knew he was thinking those words they’d cough up blood in anger. Only twenty movement techniques? The vast majority of cultivators knew either one, two, or none.

And teleporting without a spirit power, at least to Neave's admittedly limited knowledge on the topic, hadn't been discovered by anyone yet.

Neave was going to keep just dodging until he could do it so long he died of exhaustion. Or rather that was his initial plan. He had failed to predict just how much more time he had now that he was a cultivator. His opponents were also capable of using qi and even seemed to possess some qi techniques.

Ironically this meant that they got spent rather quickly. Neave had within relatively few attempts managed to exhaust both the swordsman and the archer. He was surprised to find out that the archer seemed to possess infinite arrows it just pulled out of thin air. The shieldsman was, well, not the most active member of this trio, so Neave couldn’t even really exhaust it.

Or so he thought until he just ran circles around the demon who kept spinning to try and block him from attacking. Neave had an exceptionally convenient movement technique for this exact scenario. There was a technique he could use that let him effectively glide along any surface on the tips of his toes. So Neave vs shieldsman demon looked like an ice skater spinning circles around a spinning top.

Neave honestly felt what he was doing bordered on bullying. The shieldsman demon was eventually exhausted as well and Neave chose to kill the demons just to see what the next wave looked like. Then he paused.

Next wave?

Was there even a next wave? Neave hesitated for quite a while. What if killing these demons meant being freed from this realm? He hadn’t considered the option until now, but he felt reluctant to do it. It was incredibly strange just how much he felt like he was at home here now. He had something to strive towards, was effectively immortal, and could honestly do whatever he pleased.

There was so much he still felt like he wanted to do here and he couldn’t help but feel it would be a shame to throw it away too lightly. However, he still decided that killing the demons anyway was the best course of action. He was taking a risk by doing it, but some part deep inside him felt like it had had enough. So no matter what happened, Neave thought he would be fine with it. He killed the three demons with an obsidian dagger and waited.

Neave stood frozen as dark figures began appearing around him.

Demons.

A lot of demons.

He did a quick head count and saw that twenty. They all had different weapons.

Not just that.

They had distinctly different body shapes, as well. Before he could blink, a small demon wielding a dagger ran up to him and cut at his legs. Neave dodged. However, immediately after he dodged he spotted a spiky ball on a chain flying toward him at incredible speed. He used a movement technique to get out of the way, but a ridiculously tall demon smashed him with a tremendous sledgehammer the moment he appeared.

Restart.

***

Neave had reached the sixth wave many times throughout his countless attempts. He had yet to survive longer than a few minutes.

Neave had encountered a massive spike in difficulty whenever he defeated a wave of demons. This one was by far, the absolute greatest increase in difficulty he had seen yet. It wasn’t even a challenge, it was just plain torture. Neave felt completely helpless against the horde of demons.

They used intricate strategies. The demons had many different attack, defense, and even movement techniques in some cases. They were all stronger than he was and their weapons were no joke either.

The demons were all incredibly unique as well and their styles and approach to combat made it quite hard for Neave to learn their different patterns and behaviors. He had been doing his best to learn about all the different demons:

Demon one: Average muscular male build, uses a hatchet and a small buckler. It can use an incredibly fast attack technique as well as a moderately powerful defense technique.

Demon two: Average skinny male build, uses a short sword with incredible skill. Has so far demonstrated six different attack techniques, all incredibly lethal.

Demon three: Average fat male build, uses a massive double-edged war axe. Has only one attack technique. Makes its axe unbelievably heavy and multiplies the momentum of its strikes. Even if it misses me directly, the shockwave tends to throw me off balance, deafen me or pelt me with shards of stone.

Demon four: Tall male build, uses a short bow with poison-coated arrows. Seems to have a powerful movement technique that lets it run away quickly and reposition at a high ground.

Demon five: Short muscular male build, uses twin hammers. It is relatively weak compared to most other demons, but it occasionally resorts to throwing its hammers. It's incredibly good at catching me off guard.

Demon six: Short skinny female build, uses a longsword. It seems to possess impossible strength for its size, it might perhaps be equal to a higher rank of cultivation. It isn’t particularly fast however and dodging its attacks is easy. Almost certain death if the attacks land.

Demon seven: Tall muscular male build, uses no weapons. Its attacks are relatively easy to dodge, but it does possess several movement techniques that let it stay on top of me.

Demon eight: Tall skinny male build, uses throwing daggers. Its long arms allow it to throw daggers at ridiculous speeds. I have to prioritize dodging its attacks at all costs.

Demon nine: Superhumanly tall skinny build, wields a titanic sledgehammer. Most destructive demon by far. Attacks can cause small earthquakes.

Demon ten: Exceptionally tiny build, uses twin daggers. Tricky and possesses several attack techniques as well as a very reliable movement technique.

Demon eleven: Morbidly obese build, has a spiky metal ball tethered to a chain. It barely ever moves from where it appears, all it does is throw the spiky ball and pull it back. The weapon is very dangerous.

Demon twelve: Inhuman build, walks on all fours, has spikes growing all over its body. Charges at me at full speed and leaps in an attempt to impale me.

Demon thirteen: Above average height male build, strangely muscular (?), wields a scythe. This demon is relatively harmless, as far as I can tell. All it does is swing its scythe around slowly. It does however tend to remain in places where it's quite difficult to reach it. I’m keeping an eye on it.

Demon fourteen: Slightly short muscular male build, uses a spear. Has an incredibly fast attack technique with a big range. Keeping distance is advisable.

Demon fifteen: Moderately tall stocky male build, uses a halberd. Doesn’t have powerful techniques, but it wields the halberd with decent skill.

Demon sixteen: Average male build, uses a mace and a shield. Has a ridiculously powerful defensive technique.

Demon seventeen: Tall female build, uses throwing javelins. Isn’t very precise with its ranged attacks, but it can dual-wield the javelins with incredible skill.

Demon eighteen: Inhuman build, has no arms, is very tall, and seems to only bite. Its saliva is exceptionally corrosive and poisonous. Occasionally uses a spit attack.

Demon nineteen: Is shaped vaguely like a strange demon horse. Doesn’t possess any special attacks besides a charge

Demon twenty: Average male build, wears armor and rides on top of demon nineteen, uses an executioner's sword as a weapon.

Neave felt quite stuck fighting against this ragtag army of demons. The sheer quantity of different attacks and techniques they could throw at him made it feel impossible to keep track of everything.

After being put back to the start for what had probably been several hundred times at this point, Neave knew he would have to change his approach to fighting the demons if he wanted to see success. He tried doing the same old ‘dodge until you die from exhaustion’ strategy, but that was a lost cause. The problem was that unless he dealt with some of the demons immediately, the moment he was surrounded he was utterly screwed.

He could use movement techniques and practice all he wanted, but the sheer density and frequency of different attacks meant that he spent almost all his qi at a very rapid pace. So the choice was either ‘get surrounded and crushed by countless attacks’ or ‘perpetually use movement techniques to get some distance but spend all qi’.

Neave had decided that at least for the beginning, he would focus on optimizing his fighting style against the three demons of wave five. All he had done so far was get relatively decent at dodging. He could delegate the dodging practice to wave six, while he moved on to step two with wave five.

After a while of working under this quite intensive training regime, he realized something potentially useful. He didn’t know any attack or defense techniques, but didn’t he have plenty of role models for that?

Neave spent a ton of time just observing the swordsman demon of wave five in hopes of figuring out his sword technique. That was a completely lost cause.

If it was possible to just observe someone wielding a technique and then replicate it, absolutely nobody would be capable of keeping their techniques a secret.

But Neave wasn’t someone who gave up easily. He instead just took care of the swordsman, grabbed his sword, killed the archer, and left the shieldsman to its devices. He would learn a damn technique himself.

After all, how hard could it possibly be?

It seemed to be impossible.

Neave had already gotten quite proficient at wielding the demon's sword, which was just a very sturdy and reliable iron sword. However, after he swung it millions, if not billions of times, he was starting to lose hope it was even possible to learn a qi technique.

He knew this was yet another case of not knowing that he didn’t know something. He could imbue the sword with qi, but this wasn’t a real qi technique. It was wildly inefficient after all. He was seriously close to giving up, so he decided to just take a break and focus on learning how to use the sword on its own without any qi techniques. He was doing a simple downward swing and was getting pretty good at it.

Then he lifted the sword, preparing to strike. Then he felt a deep resonance in the blade, whistling as golden runes lit up around him. He swung the blade down with incredible force, cutting the air apart and sending a flying strike that left a shallow cut in the soil several meters in front of him.

…?

It took his brain several seconds to catch up with what just happened. And Neave grinned. Indeed, he may not be able to learn any qi techniques, but did he need them?

No, he didn’t. If it took him a million years he vowed to himself that he would transcend beyond the need for petty attack or defense techniques. After all, he might as well save the qi for his movement techniques.

He lifted the sword again to keep practicing, however, he once again heard the same resonant whistle.

Neave laughed and swung the sword down, deepening the cut in the soil.

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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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