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Harel was pacing around her cultivation chamber and she was panicking. She fanned her face with her arms and paced back and forth.

Neave had appeared in her secret chambers, shown completely impossible levels of competence in both using movement techniques and wielding a sword, and then he went off to kill someone. Who was he going to kill?

And what the hell happened to make him do this? What happened to make him able to do this?

The book?

Harel contemplated that. There are incredible treasures scattered around the realm. Could the book have been some sort of sacred inheritance? Maybe it only killed off those unworthy of its contents?

Her mind was whirling. She simply had no idea what she should do. The sect master will certainly know that Neave had visited her chamber, not only did he take a sword from here, but he’d also used movement techniques inside the room.

And the swordsmanship.

She was still shivering when she thought about the way he used the sword. The sword qi in the air echoed with every one of his movements. With swordsmanship like that, who couldn’t he kill in the sect?

The first idea that came to her mind was that he’d go kill Hunter. She was well aware of the way Hunter treated Neave. Hunter dying was one thing. She could get over his death. But Neave killing someone was another thing altogether. Would she be blamed for not sprinting out immediately and warning someone? Or even for not defeating him on the spot?

Could I even beat him in a swordfight?

She didn’t know. The inheritance could have potentially granted Neave cultivation up to the bronze path. If he was even at the iron path, with movement techniques like that and with such skill with the sword, she doubted she could truly beat him in a fight.

And if that was the case, anyone except the sect master probably couldn’t defeat him either.

She hesitated yet again but decided she was going outside. She would decide what to do depending on what she discovered outside.

***

Neave stood in front of elder Kaphor in one of the sect’s hallways. He was smiling broadly, but he knew this was going to be a different story compared to someone like Marrah.

Kaphor was a cultivator on the third step of the silver path. Quite close to the gold path as well. His speed and power were greater than the final demon, even if his skill wasn’t. And he also had two spirit powers. Noxious cut and third strike. Extremely nasty powers. Noxious cut imbued the body of whoever he injured with a sharp weapon with toxic qi and third strike made his every third attack generate a phantasmal copy of the same move from behind his opponent.

Neave wasn’t going to wimp out of the fight, however. He would have killed elder Kaphor even if he didn’t hear he was involved with the poisoning.

Why?

Because out of everyone in the sect, Kaphor had tormented Neave the most. Not even Hunter had gone out of his way as much as Kaphor did. This man had invested quite a bit of his time and effort into making Neave’s life even worse than it was. Kaphor was a true destroyer, one that destroyed for destruction’s sake.

Neave could forgive Hunter. He was just a child and his role models weren’t particularly admirable. But Kaphor was over two hundred years old.

“Hmmm, I wonder what that book truly was.” Kaphor usually spoke with a weak voice in a subdued tone when in public. In front of Neave however, he always used the same voice. A deep raspy voice dripping with condescension. “An inheritance? Maybe it was a trial? Or had some sort of demonic spirit truly lived inside there?” He wasn’t even directly talking to Neave. He was just thinking out loud.

“Alright old man, you can drop the senile act and face the executioner.”

“Me? Hahaha, I face the executioner? And who would that be? You? I’ve heard who you’ve killed, you wretched creature. Simply being high rank and being a real warrior are different things.”

“I know, you are living proof of that after all!”

Kaphor sneered.

“The book must have cost you some wit. I remember you’ve had much better comebacks before.”

“I’ve gotten a bit rusty, I must admit.”

“Oh, did you, now? I wonder when you had the time for that.”

Neave grinned. But he didn’t respond.

The two of them stared at each other as elders and senior disciples began pouring into the hallway around them. None of them made a move, however. They simply observed the situation.

It felt as if the tension between the two of them was a physical substance filling the air. And then Neave made a move. He appeared right before Kaphor. Kaphor blocked Neave’s thrust and kicked out at his body, then he slashed with the sword from above, thrust at Neave, and slashed again from the side. Neave barely dodged Kaphor’s attacks. He didn’t even have time to retaliate as kaphor closed his options off by utilizing the phantom attacks.

However, he was still dodging. The elders have already created quite a bit more distance from them as Kaphor’s strikes sent flying qi techniques at the nearby walls, collapsing the hallways. As the walls opened up, Neave took the fight outside into the courtyard. Kaphor noticed an opening and swung at Neave’s arm. Neave couldn’t move his arm out of the way in time and his index finger was cleanly cut off. Kaphor grinned as he felt the attack connect, but then he saw the golden light and Neave grinned back.

Kaphor barely moved out of the way of the true strike thrust but it still tore through his chest and opened a large gash. He made some distance from Neave, clutching at his bleeding chest. But he smiled anyway. Then he looked in shock as Neave picked up the finger and reattached it back to his hand.

“What? The toxic qi…?”

“Oh, you mean this toxic qi?” Neave grinned ear to ear as green mist seeped through his hand and out of his body.

“Im-Impossible.” Neave once again blurred and this time appeared on Kaphors side. Kaphor barely blocked the true strike in time, feeling the pressure building on his wrist. He had to abandon the two-handed grip since his left pec had been torn too badly by Neave’s strike. A blue mist suddenly surrounded kaphor as he started glowing. His movements drastically accelerated as he initiated the second form of the Zearthorn sect’s swordsmanship.

His sword blurred as he ran after Neave. Neave quite literally just wasn’t fast enough to dodge Kaphor’s attacks, even if they were crappy. He had to over-abuse movement techniques to get some distance. He had to keep changing directions every three attacks to avoid the phantom strikes. Even after mostly dodging major damage, small cuts still pelted his entire body. He could control his qi to remove the toxic qi, but not when under this much pressure. Neave knew that he had no choice but to get a little desperate.

“What happened, you devil child!? Where did your miracle powers go!?”

Neave swapped his sword to his left arm. Kaphor immediately noticed the opening and committed to a long thrust. Neave’s left arm got severed cleanly off. Kaphor was already certain he’d won the fight. Until Neave’s right arm started glowing with a red tinge. Kaphor had jumped forward to extend his reach. Now he was stuck in the middle of the air as he watched Neave take a stance.

Neave’s entire arm lit up with crimson embers. It smashed into Kaphor’s gut with a deep thud. He reeled and bounced a bit into the air from the impact. Then Neave took a better stance and executed a slow true strike in the same spot. Kaphor immediately went flying far into the air. He was spinning helplessly as the force of the strike sent his blood bursting out of his eyes, mouth, and every one of his nails.

Neave then got into another stance. Golden runes started shining brighter than the midday sun as he prepared a kick. A really slow kick. Kaphor tried to do anything to dodge the strike, but all he could do was watch helplessly as he fell right onto Neave’s foot.

The impact created a mist of blood and lifted the earth around Neave’s feet. Elder Kaphor went flying like a rag doll and smashed into the stone walls of the Zearthorn sect building. He blew right through the wall like a boulder and fell to the ground.

***

Marven ran like mad as he sprinted to the other side of the sect. Even at the platinum path, it took him a good minute of running until he’d tracked down the source of all the fighting. He ran into the sect courtyard only to witness Neave execute an unbelievably potent true strike and kill elder Kaphor.

His blood ran cold.

***

Harel was seriously about to pass out from panic. She just witnessed Neave kill elder Kaphor. Not just that but she’d heard he killed several other elders as well. Harel observed the situation, panicking and wondering if there was any way to redeem herself for her mistake.

***

Neave was screwed. He’d gotten himself in way deeper shit than he was hoping. He’d spent almost half of his life force, a truly idiotic mistake now that he had to fix the issue. He couldn’t hope to reattach his arm as it rotted from the poison on the ground. It took every bit of qi control he could execute to remove the noxious qi from his body. Even then, he had to settle for just sealing a lot of it off for now until he could regain his strength.

He had to spend even more life force just to stop the bleeding from his missing left arm. Neave was injured all over, his qi was nearly exhausted and he was far too low on life force. Not to even speak of the spiritual damage that the last move had caused him. With all the blood covering him and his skin shriveling and wilting from the life force drain he was truly beginning to look like a demon.

And he was still grinning.

The satisfaction of utterly destroying that wretched old man was worth every bit of damage he had taken. But he knew that the shit he was in was about to get way deeper.

Marven stood in front of Neave. He looked so livid Neave thought he was about to get turned to fine mist.

“What are you? And what the hell have you done to my son!?”

Even though Neave knew he was completely insane for doing this, he grinned and responded to his father.

“These destroyers had poisoned me, father. It was only rational to remove them.”

Marven looked shocked at that. But he regained himself quickly. Neave could see he had resolved to something. He could practically feel the seconds counting down to his death, but he pressed on.

“I just can’t believe that you’d let this sort of shit pass under your nose. What kind of a sect master are you? Just look at all that happened today! You are so lucky, father! In the end, all I’ve done is your fucking job!”

Marven’s resolve looked like it was faltering, but he pressed on.

“Silence demon. You will not seduce me with your deceit.”

“I suppose the privilege of deceiving you is only for the elders of this sect?”

Marven stepped forward and pulled a sword out of his dimension ring

“So that’s what you’ll choose? You’d kill your son in defense of these lunatics? Hahahahahaha, you’re truly the worst father that anyone could possibly wish for! You are the worst even among all of these villains! Am I not everything you wanted me to be!? Am I finally not exactly like my mother!?”

“Shut the hell up! You despicable demon! Even if you slither out of my son's dead body I will lay my life to annihilate you!”

“Then fucking do it! Do it already you idiot! Just for once, stop being a fucking coward!”

Marven snapped at that and readied his sword for a thrust. However, he just barely stopped himself as Harel jumped in front of Neave.

“Don’t!”

Everyone in the sect froze instantly.

“Harel, what in the heavens’ name are you doing?”

What in the heavens’ name am I doing? Have I gone insane!?

“Sect master, please. I encountered Neave not even half an hour back! He is… I do not believe he is possessed by a demonic spirit!”

“Move out of the way Harel or I swear I will cut right through you.”

“No… I…” Harel frantically looked around and spotted Hunter in the crowd. “There! Hunter is still alive!” Harel had no idea why she was doing this for Neave but even she felt like her argument was weak. However, the sect master froze at that and looked over to Hunter. The elders immediately spotted his hesitation and objected.

“What are you doing, sect master!? Harel’s back is turned to the demon, what if he kills her? We would lose our sect's greatest asset!”

But Neave didn't move a bit.

“Just go around her and finish it off, it’s going to doom us all!”

It is going to doom us all...

“Stop hesitating and do it!”

So why am I hesitating?

“Kill the demon!”

Neave cackled at the scene in front of him and then gestured to the crowd of elders.

“When will you stop letting them get away with this?”

Marven’s sword nearly slipped out of his fingers.

When will you stop letting them get away with this?

Her exact words echoed through Neave’s.

“When will you finally see how fucking rotten this sect is? Remember what you told me just yesterday!? Isn’t it best one ‘naturally learns the consequences of their mistakes'? Well, these are the natural fucking consequences of their mistakes. So what will it be then? Will you make up another excuse for why you’re letting the sect rot like this? Well, it's time to wake the fuck up, dad. It’s about time you naturally learned the consequences of your mistakes!”

Marven was shaking. He felt like cold water had been splashed over him as Neave’s words sank in.

“Come on, then! What are you waiting for!? Don’t you hear the crowds screaming, begging the mighty platinum path cultivator to act!? Finish the demon, dad! Finish the fucking demon… Sect master.

That was no demon talking.

Marven could recognize Neave’s sarcasm anywhere.

He truly wasn’t cut out to be a sect master. So he laughed. The crowd around him froze and some even screamed out in despair.

“Had the demon possessed the sect master as well?”

“Heavens help us!”

“Silence.” There was absolutely no spiritual pressure coming from Marven. But that absence created a void that expanded rapidly in everyone’s stomachs. Neave looked at the mood and… Well… He bolted. Just started running. He wasn’t running particularly fast, given all the injuries and exhaustion, but Marven wasn’t chasing him either. One of the elders screamed out.

“Someone, get him.”

Marven however, spoke up.

“No. Nobody move.”

“Ignore him! You, you, and you, immediately go and execute the demon.”

Marven looked on in pure shock as several elders completely ignored his explicit commands and ran after Neave without any hesitation. They didn’t get very far, however, as seemingly out of thin air, qi blasts cut them into hundreds of tiny pieces. Silence set down on the crowd again.

“Se-Sect master. Why did you…?”

“You dare ignore my explicit commands?” Marven snarled. Then he pulled out a small purple pill.

“This right here is the antidote to the poison Neave was being fed by the elders he’s killed.”

“Sect master, that was a matter for a formal trial, but this crisis is not over yet!”

Everyone anxiously watched as Neave slipped into the hallways and disappeared out of sight. Marven ignored them and continued.

“I have known about their ploy for a long time, but I didn’t see a reason to bother. Their transgression was worthy of execution, but I’d lose an important elder and three wives. So why bother if I can just give Neave the antidote and fix the problem? I was an utter fool. And I have been a fool for hundreds of years.”

“Sect master, the demon…”

“That was my son.” Marven still remembered the words. They echoed through his mind and reflected the same thing one of his wives, no, the only true wife he’d ever had said to him.

When will you stop letting them get away with this?

And he finally had an answer to her question.

“For years I have been compromising. I’ve been playing politics and acting like a pushover just because it was convenient. And look at what my apathy cost me... Every time I compromised between what was right and what you wanted I’ve moved our sect closer to being a demonic one. I think it’s about time we make it formal then.”

The elders all froze upon hearing those words.

“Sect master, please, you’ve lost yourself, do you not hear what you’re saying!”

“The demon is running away and you’re here spouting insane nonsense! Sect master, gather yourself and let…”

“I, Marven Zearthorn, sect master of the Zearthorn sect and cultivator on the first step of the platinum path declare the Zearthorn sect a demonic one!”

The elders gasped and a few of them even screamed upon hearing those words.

“He’s lost his mind!”

Marven continued.

“And from this moment onwards... I disband the sect.”

The elders paused but then one of them stepped forward and attacked Marven.

“You’ve lost your damn mind! The council vetoes your decision immediately! If you so desire, then feel free to leave the sect yourself!”

“Yeah! You’re a terrible sect master anyway!”

“With behavior like this, we’d be better off without you!” ž

Marven smiled sadly.

“I will not let a demonic sect bearing my name continue to exist. I’ve made too many mistakes and it is far too late to do things the right way! For as long as you choose to stay with this sect, you’re under my rule! And I, in the name of Emperor Jeevian Lloude Dust, use my authority as the sect master to administer punishment for your crimes!”

He pointed his sword at elder Rashia. “Elder Rashia, for concocting and administering poisons to disciples of the Zearthorn sect, I sentence you to death!” He didn’t even move. But a second later, Rashia’s head detached and her body fell to the ground.

“Elder Kashimir, for the assassination of your sibling and fellow sect elder, I sentence you to death!”

Elder Kashimir’s head fell, the same way Rashia’s did. The elders were already screaming, some even running away, but Marven continued.

“Elder Bankor, for selling sect secrets to a rival sect, I sentence you to death!”

And another head dropped to the ground. Marven looked around the crowd. Pure chaos had descended upon all the sect members.

“What!? Why are you all so surprised I knew of your wrongdoings? What do you take me, a platinum path cultivator, for!? You fools do not even understand what my rank and power signify!” Marven started crying. "Because none of you are worth your weight as cultivators! Nor are you worth a damn as human beings."

But his anger still flared, burning hotter than the sun. However, as he looked at the frightened faces of his children, he felt his resolve crumble before him. He held his sword in his hands, ready to strike again, but bit by bit, the edge lowered. And the endless weight of his regret sank in.

“For as long as you choose to stand within this sect’s premises, I consider you my subjects. And for as long as you are my subjects I have the right to administer your punishment. But if any of you choose to leave and pack your things… I will let you go.”

Immediately, every single member of the Zearthorn sect broke out into a run, except Marven and Harel, who had peed herself a little in fright. The word soon spread to the junior disciples of the sect and soon enough even they were packing their things and leaving.

Marven watched all of the sect members run around like mad. The elders and senior cultivators rapidly collected anything they owned and even some things they didn’t. They left the sect and ran for the hills in every direction. He stared at the dead bodies around him, the pit of despair deepening with every moment. Four of them had been his children. And they died at his hands.

Harel had been pretending to be invisible this whole time. But she finally gathered the courage to ask.

“What about…? I’m sorry to interrupt, sect master, but what about Neave?”

Marven laughed and ignored her question.

“Someone had already stolen your lotus. Ah, I have to laugh at how stupid I am. And please, do not call me sect master anymore. I’m no sect master. I never truly was.” Marven looked over at Harel. She could see deep sadness and regret in his teary eyes as he looked back into hers.

“If you wish you can leave as well. But if you so desire I will take you to the greatest sect I can find and ensure you’re taken care of.”

“But what about…”

“Please, Harel. I have faith he will live. Besides, I am a coward.” He looked up, streams of tears pouring down his eyes. “I am so sorry Brivia. For I am committing yet another mistake. But he doesn’t deserve a father like I. And I… And I…” Then he grabbed his mouth and wept.

He truly felt like a failure. Marven still remembered the man he once was. The sixty-year-old farmhand that lived his life admiring legendary cultivators. The mortal man that had become a powerhouse against all odds.

The mortal man that had wasted such fortune through failure after failure.

After pouring his heart out, Marven steeled his resolve. He picked Harel up and rapidly ascended the mountain next to his sect. There were still some valuable things that could be retrieved, but he couldn’t bear to carry such mementos of his failure. When he felt the last disciple leave the sect premises, he turned to Harel.

“What I am about to show you is the technique I have built my dreams upon. Nobody from our sect had ever come even close to being able to execute this technique besides me.” Then he turned towards the sect, pulled a shiny red great sword from his dimension ring, and continued. “I have a selfish request to ask of you. Please, Harel. Remember what I am about to do.”

He straightened the sword in front of his body and immediately it began glowing with a celestial blue light. He took a deep breath and then the sword was engulfed in blue energy. The ground around him shook and the sword sounded like an angry steel hornet.

The blue energy shot out of the sword and materialized into a gigantic blue sword hanging above the sect premises. Harel gaped at the impossible display of power in front of her eyes. The spiritual force emitted by the sword was so great she felt like she would pass out just looking at it.

Then the sword spun. As Marven moved his blade downwards, the gigantic phantom blade sunk into the ground. The sword exploded in blue light and the shockwave was like a billion sword slashes, cutting every building and severing every stone within the sect. Seconds later, the blue light faded and all that was left was a pile of debris.

The Zearthorn sect was no more.

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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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