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The swordsman demon ran straight at Neave and readied itself for a qi technique. Neave stepped forward and sent a true strike flying to its face, caving its skull in and stealing its sword.

“Thank you very much, bestie, kisses and hugs!”

Neave had spent a bit of time practicing true strikes.

That was to say that couldn't even pretend he had a realistic estimate of how much time he’d spent doing it. But there was one certain thing. The practice had paid off drastically. Neave had learned the true strikes for countless different attacks. He had also learned that there was something of a side-effect to overusing true strikes. If one did too many true strikes in a short period, especially if it was the exact same true strike, they began to feel this sort of vague spiritual exhaustion. At first, he ignored it, since he’d become quite adept at handling pain by now, but then…

His spirit collapsed. Not quite shattered, but it did suffer a lot of damage due to true strike abuse. Neave had assumed that there would be some consequences to abusing them, after all, they cost neither mundane physical energy nor qi, so there had to be a catch, right? That catch was spiritual exhaustion. But it was far from a serious issue for Neave. After all, even pouring just a tiny amount of life force into his spirit seemed to fix the damage right up. Neave sometimes forgot that using life force like this was a death sentence for anyone, hell, even for him. But within the confines of this realm, he didn’t have to care at all about how he spent it. Because he didn’t have to care about death.

Neave had developed something of a martial arts style over the last many attempts at taking on the sixth wave. And he had decided to give it the most pretentious and arrogant name he could think of.

The immortal arts.

The style made one impossible to hit* due to its impeccable movement techniques.

*Impossible to hit for as long as one dodged properly.

As well as infinitely powerful by granting unlimited* mighty attacks.

*Unlimited for as long as one didn't run out of life energy or shatter their spirit.

Life was good for immortal arts users. Especially Neave, who was also the only immortal arts user. He grabbed the sword, whistled and he walked slowly over to the archer. The shieldsman was blocking Neave from approaching as the archer fired arrow after arrow. Neave however, just casually walked towards them, either flicking the arrows out of the air with the sword or blurring and appearing behind the arrows as they passed through the place where he was a moment ago. He then approached the shield demon.

Then he just stabbed forward. It was a relatively relaxed stab, however, as Neave grabbed the handle it began whistling in resonance and golden runs lit up like sacred butterflies in the air around him. The sword sank into the shield. The shield split in two and even though the sword didn’t reach the demon, it still fell dead on the ground, its heart severed.

There were a few things Neave had learned about true strikes. The first thing was that the slower a strike was, the more powerful it seemed to be.

This was something the book never mentioned. Neave felt that it was likely that nobody knew this. After all, if somebody attempted to master a true strike, they’d want that strike to be as fast as possible, right?

Another important thing one should know about true strikes was that if one wanted to make a true strike faster, that was impossible.

One couldn’t just swing a sword or throw a fist the same way, but faster, and expect it to work. If one changed the speed of a true strike it became a different move altogether. That didn’t stop Neave or anyone from learning several different true strikes for several different speeds of attack.

For others who may not even know the true nature of true strikes, that would seem like a ridiculous waste of time.

But not to Neave.

He learned most of his attacks at several different speeds, especially the basic ones he relied on the most. He still preferred using the slow ones if he could. Neave could easily imagine that being an excellent intimidation tactic. You swung your sword casually at someone and the more casually you swung it the more devastating the aftermath. It naturally made these attacks far more difficult to use in combat, but there were ways to manage that.

Neave turned to the archer and flicked yet another arrow from the air. Then he blurred past the archer, leaving a golden trail of runes as its head popped off its neck. This was a very fast true strike, executed during a movement technique.

It was the single most difficult thing Neave had ever managed to achieve. The precision required to achieve something like that was so great it took Neave what felt like a lifetime to get it to work even once. He could execute this one move relatively easily now. And he was hoping it would be the key to his success.

The true strikes were great and all, but they had several glaring weaknesses. The rigidity of the strikes made it super inconvenient to use them more often than not. The form of your strike had to be perfect, so if you had to dodge something or hell, do even as much as just prepare a single muscle in advance, tough luck. It wasn't going to work.

The analogy with chess made more and more sense to Neave the more he used true strikes. Indeed, they were a powerful tool only when used correctly. You could check a king a hundred times and still lose. They were also rigid and restricted. A rook could only move straight and a knight could only move in L-shapes. It was only careful planning that allowed one to corner their opponent.

The archer demon lay dead on the ground and Neave immediately started moving. He was neither attacking, nor dodging. He had been practicing just surviving in the sixth wave for a while already.

If he simply dodged around, the sixth wave became incredibly exhausting and there wasn’t all that much room for improvement. However, he had been practicing how to incorporate certain true strikes as parries rather than attacks. They could hold a ton of force behind them, so they could serve as an improvised defense technique. This had allowed him to move his survival time from a couple of puny minutes to at least more than ten minutes.

Usually, he wouldn’t even bother with trying to do this, but it was almost necessary for the sixth wave. He had to learn its intricacies before he could take it on properly.

And it was complicated.

The demons all appeared in random but not quite random order around Neave. They seemed to group almost depending on certain characteristics or properties. At first, Neave didn’t understand why they did this until he realized just how many different strategies they were capable of utilizing when paired together in certain ways.

It was honestly a massive pain in the ass.

However, countless attempts later Neave was rather confident he understood the possible strategies well enough to give it a fair shot.

As he was dodging around in the sixth wave, he eventually ran too low on qi and failed to execute a movement technique. The dagger-throwing demon landed a precise throw that tore Neave’s side open. Before he could recover from the damage in any way, a poison arrow hit him as well and he found himself snuggling the spiky demon.

Restart.

Neave closed his eyes. He fixed his spirit and then he broke into the foundation realm. Demon one was just about to walk up to him, but a quick true strike punch was all it took to explode its head. He casually dismantled the demons of waves two and three and then similarly took care of the fourth wave demons. The fifth wave started and ended in seconds. Neave used a true strike kick to shatter the swordsman's wrist and steal his sword. The shield demon was split in half and the archer was decapitated. Then the sixth wave started. And this time, Neave wasn’t going to be dodging around.

He glanced at where all the demons had appeared. His eyes flashed around him as he rapidly absorbed the information about his surroundings.

The morbidly obese one with the spiky ball is close to the one with the heavy war axe. In front of them is the unarmed tall one. Next to them are the armless spitter demon and the one that used the twin hammers. To their right is the female-looking one with the long sword, spear demon, halberd demon, and the one with the lethal sword techniques. Crap, the weapon master gang is together and the armored horseman is right in front of them. Shit, that’s too close. Further right and behind them, the poison bowman is sitting on a small boulder. A little in front of him is the tiny demon with the daggers and slightly behind him is the one with the scythe. Up next is the demon with the titanic hammer and the spiky one is right in front of it. A little behind and to the right of them are the throwing dagger demon and the shield plus mace demon. That’s terrible news. Finally, the hatchet demon is guarding the javelin demon.

Neave finished the observations within less than a second. And the demons were already running towards him.

The short one with the twin daggers sprinted at Neave, dashing forward and using its movement technique. Neave dodged to the side as it jumped at him. Neave barely dodged a throwing dagger that whistled through the air and the spiky ball missed his nose by millimeters. The unarmed tall demon was upon Neave immediately after the small one. Neave wanted to take care of it first, but the short one with the daggers appeared in front of him again and Neave had to dodge a slash to his legs

He moved away just in time for the spiky demon to fly by him and land next to the unarmed demon. The unarmed demon picked up the spiky one off the ground and threw it at Neave. Neave was about to dodge it, but just at the last moment, he noticed the javelin. And as he was about to dodge the javelin flying at his face he heard the whistle of the throwing dagger. Neave gritted his teeth and used a rather expensive movement technique that allowed him to blink away from all three of the projectiles flying at him. He appeared in the path of the horseman who swung a quick strike at Neave.

Luckily it was caught off guard by Neave’s sudden appearance so Neave had a chance to save himself. He used an upwards swing true strike to parry the blow. It was a fast one, so it just barely had enough energy to slow it down so Neave could get out of the way.

The spiky demon that Neave had dodged ended up flying right into the small demon with the daggers. The small demon got impaled several times and dropped dead to the ground.

Neave took account of his surroundings as he noticed the demon with the titanic sledgehammer approaching. He still had some time until it reached his position. He dodged yet another throwing dagger and just barely managed to avoid getting a poisoned arrow in his leg. As the horseman and the unarmed demon closed in on Neave, as well as several others, Neave used the opportunity to dash over to the demon with the javelins. The hatchet demon stood right next to it but it wasn’t prepared for Neave’s sudden appearance. Neave caught the javelin demon mid-throw and bisected it horizontally with a true strike.

The hatchet demon had already started swinging at Neave, who was planning on dodging the strike. But the incoming throwing dagger and poison arrow forced him to use a movement technique to get behind the hatchet demon's back. The poisoned arrow flew by, missing them both, but the throwing dagger flew right at the hatchet demon. It chose to block the throwing dagger, which allowed Neave to use a true strike and pierce its heart.

Out of the corner of his eye, Neave noticed the morbidly obese demon throw the spiked ball in a seemingly random direction.

That’s almost certainly going to be some fucking bullshit.

Neave had more pressing matters to deal with, however. The horseman was about to reach him and he saw the throwing dagger demon preparing another throw.

However, he was forced to put his attention back onto the spiky ball as the demon with the war axe dropped his weapon and grabbed the chain of the spiky ball. He then swung the spiky ball at Neave with incredible force.

“Pffff!”

Neave just barely managed to duck under the strike in time as it shaved a lock of hair off his head and pulverized a large boulder behind him. He winced as several shards of stone hit his face.

The second he needed to dodge put him right in front of the horseman and the unarmed demon again. Neave clicked his tongue. The halberd demon, spear demon, sword technique demon, and the crazy strong demon with the long sword were already immediately behind them as well.

He noticed the war axe demon was preparing to swing the spiky ball at him again and even the titanic sledgehammer demon was getting close. Neave used his single most expensive movement technique to appear immediately before the titanic sledgehammer demon.

“Come on you ugly fucker, I’m right here!”

It pulled its hammer up into the air and prepared to strike. The unarmed demon threw the spiky one at Neave again, but Neave just ignored it, instead dashing over behind the horseman and landing on the horse demon’s back.

He used all his focus to initiate a true strike kick aimed directly at the armored demon's head. It wasn’t enough to cause serious injury, but it was enough to launch it off the horse demon and right onto the spiky demon, who got crushed under the weight of the armored one. And then doubly crushed as the immense force of the sledgehammer effectively pulverized both of them into mush.

Neave used the cover of the dust cloud to dispatch the demon horse. To his surprise, he spotted both the throwing dagger and the poison arrow flying at him through the smoke. In his panic he dodged to the side with a rough movement technique, cursing himself for the qi expenditure.

Just as he was thinking this, the unarmed demon ran at Neave, lifting its claws for a slashing attack. Neave didn’t even give it the time to reach him. He bisected it with an upward slash true strike.

The weapon master gang was also approaching him again.

Brilliant.

Just his luck that those four would appear immediately next to one another. Neave chose to ignore them for now and then ran at the morbidly obese demon. The war axe demon dropped the spiky ball and picked its weapon back up off the ground. But before it could reach for it, Neave used the opportunity to dash over and sever its neck.

He quickly ran over to the obese demon who was pulling the spiky ball back to itself. Neave caught it as well and used a slow true strike to bisect the upper part of its large body.

However, the extra second he took to charge up a stronger true strike allowed the demon that wielded the war hammers to throw them directly at his head. He frowned and just barely moved his head to the left to dodge the first one, then to the right to dodge the second one.

The armless demon was being unusually docile this time, or wait, now that Neave thought of it, it might have been spitting at him the entire time. He probably just luckily dodged the spit. It didn’t have the greatest range or accuracy, however. It tried running at Neave, but to Neave’s surprise, the twin hammer demon grabbed its leg and swung it at Neave like a weapon. Neave bent backward, just barely avoiding the spittle flying from its open mouth.

He noticed both the throwing dagger and the poison arrow flying toward him. He jumped up into a backflip, simultaneously dodging the armless demon again. However, the armless demon wasn’t quite as lucky as the throwing dagger shattered its skull and the poison arrow sank into the mushy brain matter. As Neave landed, he used the opportunity to quickly slit the now-unarmed hammer demon's throat.

This time, however, he was finally cornered by the weapon master gang. And unfortunately, just as he was about to initiate the fight with them, he had to also dodge a poison arrow, which started the fight off very poorly.

More by luck than skill, he managed to dodge under the halberd demon's swing and just a little to the right of the spear demon's thrust. He was forced to parry the sword technique coming his way without a true strike, so he had to use a bit of his life force to get the strength needed to deflect the blow.

Neave used a barely executed movement technique to dodge the impossibly strong demon’s downward swing and dash behind the weapon master gang’s backs. The sword sank into the ground with a smash and it plowed the solid stone like a hoe plowing wet dirt. The sword technique demon used a different technique, but this one he could parry with a true strike. Not only did he parry it with a true strike, but he’d also managed to break through the technique and bisect the demon.

Almost by instinct, he ducked a bit downwards as a throwing dagger went flying over his head and into the chest of the impossibly strong demon.

The moment he noticed the shadow encroaching he didn’t hesitate even for a second. Neave immediately used a movement technique to get as far away as he possibly could as the titanic sledgehammer came flying his way. He almost completely avoided the impact, but the halberd and spear demons were thrown back several meters away. His qi was starting to get dangerously low.

He used the chance to chase down the poison archer. As he ran out of the dust cloud he spotted the poison archer readying itself to use its movement technique. It was a terrifyingly fast dash that could carry it in a straight line from one high ground to another. But Neave wasn’t going to let it get away. He focused every bit of his attention on estimating where the demon would be in the next second. The air whistled as it flew like an arrow, but just as it reached a few meters away from the boulder, Neave came flying through the air right next to it, delivering a clean sword swing and decapitating its head. Its head and body flew separately and both smashed into the boulder with a splat.

Neave used the cover of the boulder to hide from the throwing dagger demon as he scouted the area. He decided he would take care of the halberd and spear ones first. After all, the throwing dagger demon had helped him more than anything else in this fight.

The halberd and spear demons seemed to have lost their weapons as well when they got caught up in the sledgehammer smash. The halberd was just gone, and the spear was a dull stick. They made for incredibly easy targets. Both demons had a clean thrust delivered to their chest and quickly dropped dead to the ground. Neave ran toward the throwing dagger demon.

He had decided to leave the titanic demon for last. Neave dodged another throwing dagger. A throwing dagger that ended up embedded in the leg of the titanic sledgehammer demon.

The massive demon roared and it threw the sledgehammer at Neave.

“Holy fucking shit!”

Neave had never seen it do that, not even once. Panic clouded his mind and he just barely managed to dodge it by using a movement technique, almost completely out of qi now. The sledgehammer obliterated the shield demon, causing a small earthquake. The shockwave knocked the throwing dagger demon back.

Neave caught the throwing dagger demon with a true strike before it could get off the ground. Then he faced the titanic demon. Neave prepared his footing and practically went flying at the demon. Then just before he hit it, he executed a mid-air true strike kick directly into its chest. One of its lungs collapsed and it spewed blood everywhere, but Neave pressed the attack. He landed and used a true strike to sever both the demon's legs. As its large body came plummeting to the ground he used an upward slash to sever it in half.

“I did it. I fucking did it!” And then he remembered.

Neave turned around and spotted the scythe demon.

“You sneaky little fucker.” Neave squinted at the demon in irritation. Then he smiled.

Neave laughed. He roared in laughter and strode slowly towards the demon. Neave knew he was right. Or rather, he hoped he was right as he stood in front of it. He was tired. His qi was at its very limits.

Neave lifted his sword as it prepared to strike with its scythe.

Both Neave and the demon lit up with golden runes. The crash of two true strikes meeting sent all the dust and debris flying away.

Neave’s left arm dropped to the ground, cleanly severed at the shoulder. Little blood flowed out of the wound. He had used life force to make it stop bleeding.

“Hey, reaper.” Neave stared at it with a crazed expression on his face as it stepped closer to him.

“Your cut was too clean.” Neave kicked his arm up into the air with his left foot, grabbed it with his teeth, and placed it back where it belonged. Then he expended almost all of his remaining life force to heal it back into place. The scythe demon was already about to take another strike at him, but Neave stepped forward preparing to counter it. However, just as the two weapons met, Neave's sword went flying into the distance.

Neave was gone.

Golden runes lit up behind the scythe demon’s back. The thud blew dust and debris away as its guts splattered all over the ground.

The demon dropped its scythe and fell.

Neave was effectively paralyzed. Completely out of qi and nearly out of life force. None of that was on his mind, however.

What’s gonna happen next?

Is this it?

Then another demon appeared.

A single demon.

Completely unarmed.

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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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