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Neave strode down the hallway and he felt great.

He had never killed an actual person before, so he was wondering whether he would have any reservations about it, but no, not really. The miserable look on the face of a man that poisoned kids for scraps didn’t spark any compassion within Neave’s heart. Rather, he felt joyful. After all, no more kids would be poisoned! A destroyer had been removed!

Would he lament killing a parasite?

Obviously not!

And he was certain that the next victim wouldn't spark any compassion either.

***

Elder Rashia couldn’t shake off the sense of unease. First, the book was completely and utterly gone. It had been over half a day already and it was getting well into the night, but they hadn’t found any signs of the book's potential location.

And Neave’s strange behavior was lingering in the back of her mind.

He was… Lucid. That much was obvious. But something about the way he was acting just freaked Rashia out. If it was just that, she would have written it off as just strange behavior, perhaps insanity induced by proximity to the tome.

But the dancing. Everybody found his dancing merely strange at first, but the more Rushia thought about it the more it weighed on her mind.

How was he so good?

Did he spend all his days practicing dancing in the library when nobody was looking? Rushia had dealt with a fair share of insane individuals over her long career, but she had never seen someone be granted the ability to dance like that by mere insanity, even if they desperately tried to convince someone otherwise.

And that wasn’t the only thing. There was this creepy undertone to his behavior. Something bizarre was happening.

Neave was restrained. He was locked in a sealed room. The sect master wasn’t a complete fool. There was a real possibility that Neave had been possessed by the cursed book. That’s why he had been ‘escorted to the infirmary’.

It should be fine, right? He should remain where he is, no matter what… Rashia cursed herself for not telling one of the elders to remain behind. The sense of unease became too much and she couldn’t stop herself from returning to the sealed room.

And what she found shook her to her very core. Neave was gone. Not just that, but a book lay half burned on the ground next to where Neave should have been.

The pages have all burned to a crisp, but the hardcovers seemed to be made from far less-flammable material. And the covers of the book perfectly coincided with the description of the death tome.

***

“Sect master! Father, wait!” Hunter finally made it to Marven after a good deal of running. He had to dodge and avoid countless elders that beckoned him to go back to his room. Hunter had to explain several times that it was an emergency and even then some elders just told him to return to his quarters.

“Hunter. Why aren’t you in your room?”

“Father, I know where the death tome is!”

Marven’s eyebrows shot up.

“What!? Explain, did you see it?”

“No, but…”

“Then go back to your room.”

“Father, please listen to me!” Hunter grabbed Marven’s sleeve, to Marven’s chagrin.

“You have ten seconds to explain what you’re doing here. We’re in the middle of a crisis, Hunter.”

“Look, Neave visited my room…”

Marven’s eyebrows shot up again at that. Then he scoffed.

“What are you talking about Hunter? Neave has been tied up and detained in a special room. There’s no way he could have visited you.”

“No, you don’t understand, he, he… He can phase through walls! And he was… Look, I have good reason to suspect that the cursed tome is possessing him!”

Marven’s initial reaction was to slap Hunter. He was obviously spouting nonsense. But he restrained himself, as Hunter’s distress seemed to be genuine. Suddenly, a realization struck him.

“Hunter, we are going to your room!”

“What? No, father, he has already left, my room is…”

“I didn’t ask, Hunter.”

Hunter considered and responded.

“Ok, alright father, but we need to hurry. He is out there somewhere.”

Marven paused for just a second at that. And then he picked up Hunter and ran to his room.

***

Kamella Zearthorn was Marven’s seventh wife. However, all of the previous six wives were already dead. So in her head and also in her formal title, she was the first mistress of the Zearthorn sect. She was an austere woman that looked to be middle-aged but was well over hundred and fifty years old. She was running around the halls of the sect, fuming.

Kamella had tried explaining to Marven that Neave should be interrogated thoroughly and immediately. He, however, dismissed her! He dared! Wasn’t it obvious that the child stole the book!? Hadn’t that wretched hellspawn admitted to his crimes in front of the entire sect!?

But no. In his cramped little skull, detaining Neave and looking for the book was the better option. Kamella had never heard of a damn walking book before. And she felt she wasn’t going to meet one today.

The dancing. Neave’s dancing was oh so suspicious the more she or anyone she talked to thought about it. How could he dance like that? A mortal child, that spent their entire life bent over mundane texts suddenly passes out in the sect courtyard and wakes up miraculously able to move like that? With the coordination of a many-years-trained professional dancer?

If the book was truly alive, the only possibility was that it was possessing his body. The elders had privately gathered in one of the hallways during the search and agreed not to push the issue, however. After all, Neave had already been restrained in qi bonds, which was overkill in any case, and he had also been locked in a specially isolated room. The elders agreed there was no merit in pushing the issue.

After all, when this whole fiasco was over and it was discovered that Neave’s body had been possessed, the sect master would be losing quite a bit of influence. Not only would they have a solid case to restrain the sect master in his future decisions, but they would also have a solid reason to execute Neave. Well, if they must exorcize him, they could do that as well. But the spirit damage would leave him a pale shadow of the person he was.

Kamella gloated. She hated Neave. She hated the fact that the sect master had married anyone after her. Especially that wretched whore Brivia. She couldn’t stand the thought of that woman. Kamella couldn’t be happier about what happened to her. Killed by bandits and not even her body was recovered. She just hoped the bandits didn’t pick anything up after touching that thing.

And now she got to finally end her bloodline once and for all. Just as she thought those very words, Neave appeared in front of her.

“Oh, hello stepmother! I was just looking for you!” Kamella wasn’t a naïve woman. She immediately understood the implications of Neave being there and holding a weapon. She didn’t even think for a second before she triggered her spirit power and attacked Neave with her sword.

Kamella wasn’t a warrior, but she was still on the second step of the silver path. She also had a spirit power. A very expensive one. She could create several near-exact phantom copies of herself.

She charged at Neave, making it to him before even a second had passed. And then he disappeared. A deep sense of unease clawed at her back, but she couldn’t turn around in time. Moments later, his scimitar was stuck in her back, poking out of her chest, right through her heart.

“You… Demon child…” With the last breath she could muster, she spat blood and cursed Neave. Then she dropped dead to the ground.

***

Neave was flat-out disappointed after that fight. Wasn’t Kamella a silver path cultivator? She moved almost as fast as the final demon, but with so much less finesse. Neave was only in the foundation realm, but he’d already killed two silver path cultivators. He was shocked at how…

Soft… They were.

Was it supposed to be this easy to kill someone on the silver path? Surely not. The spirit power was also underwhelming, as Neave’s spiritual senses could easily pick Kamella apart from the clones.

These weren’t prominent warriors, but it was still strange that he could just dispatch them like this. Neave shrugged his shoulders and picked the dimension ring of Kamella’s finger. Then he put it on.

“Ugh, that’s so heavy.” Not physically heavy, but spiritually heavy. Spiritual weight was greater for objects created with higher rank materials and too much spiritual weight felt like a bad migraine, but spiritually. This made Neave feel like throwing up, but he ignored the sensation, used to far greater pain than this. Then he scoured through the dimensional space within with his spiritual senses.

He grinned. There was a whole load of supplies in there. He couldn’t wear the ring at all times, but nothing was stopping him from just pocketing it and taking things out whenever needed. For now, he looked for anything immediately useful. He found some decent treasures for qi recovery and even several decent weapons.

Neave hadn’t spent any life force yet, but he’d overdone it with the movement techniques. He took a small sip from a qi recovery potion and sighed contently as it replenished his minuscule qi reserves. Then he pulled out a steel sword. A damn good one. It felt beautifully balanced in Neave’s arms as he took a few swings. It was much lighter than the scimitar and far more appropriate for his body mass and height.

Well then, was it Sollaria or Marrah next?

***

Marven was hoping to find the book hidden somewhere in Hunter's room. He pulled the floorboards off and even peeled the walls, which Hunter watched in distressed silence. He had already asked his father what he was doing and Marven just angrily told him to shut up.

Marven finished his peeling and then cursed. He then tried using his spiritual senses, but he knew that was somewhat desperate. The treasure was completely invisible to even his spiritual senses. But as he tried it out anyway, he immediately frowned.

There was loose qi residue in the room. It didn’t have any distinct impression on Marven’s senses, which meant it must be foundation realm qi. But that made no sense. This felt like it was less than an hour old and the only person that could have been in here was… Marven froze. He slowly turned to Hunter and looked him in the eyes.

“Hunter. Were you telling the truth about seeing Neave in this room?”

Hunter quickly nodded his head, still too scared to talk.

Marven didn’t ask any more questions, he merely sprinted toward the chambers where Neave was supposed to be detained.

He knew something was unusual about this incident. His intuition had already told him what was happening, but he didn’t want to believe it. He gritted his teeth until one cracked and he ran like mad.

If Neave… If he truly did get…

Then it is all my fault.

***

Neave found elder Sollaria very soon after he had taken care of Kamella. Unsurprising, given how much of an asslicker Sollaria was. She had probably been secretly following Kamella. He didn’t even really bother with any formalities. He just beheaded her and walked right past her body.

She wasn’t even on the silver path yet, so before she could even scream, she lay dead on the ground.

Neave’s next target was Lady Marrah. Or rather, Hunter’s mother. And he wasn’t nearly as casual about killing her as he had been for Kamella and Sollaria. Compared to them, Marrah was an actual warrior.

***

Marrah was seriously considering assassinating Marven. He had grown too complacent. He was a grand warrior and a truly remarkable cultivator, but… Marven just didn’t have what it took to be a sect master.

Marrah was the youngest of Marven’s wives, at only thirty-six years old. She was rather tall and had an inordinate amount of muscle. Her black hair was tied back into a ponytail. And she was quite handsome. It was hard to call her beautiful, however. Her face was too sharp and her jaw was just a bit too defined for that.

She was no prodigy as a young cultivator, but her father had drilled the principles of hard work deep into her. So she kept reaching the standards of her sect within a relatively normal time. By 22 years old, she had reached the second step of the bronze path and had been married off to Marven. Since then she had improved up to the second step of the silver path.

Although she was not a particularly talented cultivator, she was a natural at politics. She had chosen to birth only a single son and then invested a very great amount of resources into him. At first, she kept her head down and sucked up to the higher-ranking elders, but as her power as a cultivator, as well as the power of her son, kept growing, she built her influence to among the highest in the sect.

And how did Marven reward her for that work? By blatantly ignoring the fact that that child had been possessed? Marrah was among the few that didn’t hate Neave’s mother. She just hated Neave himself. If anything, she was fond of his mother. So what if she was a little cruel? That was what a cultivator was meant to be like! But Neave represented the greatest sin that she detested more than anything in the world.

Sloth.

She wasn’t the one who’d come up with the plan to poison Neave. But she played along anyway. The reason why was simple. She just wanted Marven to give up on making him a cultivator. It was a waste of time and resources that only caused discord within the sect.

This damn farce with looking for the book was already getting on her nerves. She understood Marven rather well, even among his wives.

The guilt was eating him alive.

After all, how could have Neave gained access to his keys if Marven didn’t just give them to him? Marrah knew where the tome had been hidden and it was not surprising to hear that Neave had found it.

What a fiasco. She was just glad that sly Kaphor had at least let him save some face by putting the farce up.

It was at this moment that she spotted Neave standing in front of her in the hallway. She immediately pulled out her weapon, but she didn’t attack.

“So, am I to assume that I am talking to Neave Zearthorn, or is it the creature that lived within the book?”

Neave laughed in response.

“Both, actually!”

“So you’ve meshed with Neave’s personality?”

“Oh, it’s far more simple than that, stepmother.”

Neave took two steps forward and vanished. Every single hair on Marrah’s body immediately shot up as she turned around and blocked a strike. The impact made her recoil, but the shock of what she’d witnessed was much greater than the strike.

Neave had just teleported and then used a true strike. He didn’t seem to be on the gold path, however. If he was, Marrah would be dead. In fact, he didn’t even seem to be on the iron path. So how the hell could he use a true strike? And what the devil was that movement technique?

Marrah flexed her muscles and readjusted her stance, readying herself to strike at Neave again.

“What’s with all the wasted movement?” Then he disappeared again. And this time, she felt her knee buckle as the tendons behind it were severed. She whirled and readjusted her balance to face Neave. She had to balance on one leg now.

Marrah cursed her stupid decision to not wear armor around the sect premises. She should have just swallowed the shame.

“Why are you attacking me?”

“Isn’t it obvious? You’re a destroyer and you have to be removed!”

Marrah frowned.

“Destroyer?”

“I mean, come on stepmother, what else could someone who poisons children be?”

Marrah scoffed.

“You didn’t want to be a cultivator anyway. Did the book change that somehow?”

“Look at you, trying to squeeze information out of me. Let me throw you a bone, though. All I will say is that it left me with no choice.”

“So it forced these strange techniques onto you?”

“That’s enough stalling, Marrah.” Neave rushed at her and faced her in combat. Marrah swung the blade with all her might and skill, but trying to hit Neave was like trying to hit a damn shadow. She had two spirit powers.

Troll strength and enhanced endurance.

Both were very simple and quite mighty abilities. However, she felt like they were of no use whatsoever against Neave. The way he dodged her attacks was almost casual and although his attacks weren’t doing much damage to her, the cuts were piling up.

“Seriously? I was quite excited about our fight, but you’re just so slow. I can tell who Hunter inherited his moves from.”

Those words made a chill run down her spine. Why was he mentioning Hunter now?

“You bastard! Did you do something to Hunter!?”

“Oh, yeah, I did. I will let your imagination decide what the worst thing I could have possibly done is.”

Marrah shook as she gripped the handle of her sword hard enough to make it crack.

“You…” She wanted to say something. But the pure anger she felt just took over and she lunged at Neave. She initiated the most powerful qi technique she could use. The final form of the Zearthorn sect sword arts.

The cut of severed fates.

Her sword vibrated intensely and shone with the brightness of a star. As she brought the sword down it smashed into the ground and the resulting explosion blew the walls and roof away and left a deep gouge down the floor of the hallway. But she missed Neave.

The recoil of the technique she’d used kept her stunned for less than a second. But it was a second where Neave used a slow true strike. A simple downward slash.

And bisected Marrah from top to bottom.

***

The sect master ran into elder Rashia halfway to the chambers where Neave should have been kept. She showed him the covers of the death tome. Her explanation was brief but Marven felt like the entire world was spinning. This was when one of the senior disciples walked up.

“Sect master! Somebody had killed elder Jukann!” An elder ran up as well.

“Sect master! Is there a bloody mutiny within the sect!? Lady Sollaria and Lady Kamella have both been found dead in the hallways!”

And that was when they heard the qi technique go off.

***

Neave stood in front of an elderly-looking man. The man didn’t look shocked to see Neave. He merely clicked his tongue.

“Elder brother Kaphor! How are you doing on this fine day!?”

Elder Kaphor wasn't at all amused by what he was seeing.

Not even a little bit.

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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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