Neave had made one important discovery today.
Monster meat was unbelievably awful.
Taste wise at least.
However, if one could put the horrendous flavor aside, eating monster meat could be quite beneficial. But boy was the flavor awful. Eating monster meat was something that was usually only done by those with high skill in qi manipulation. And even this was only after it was properly processed first. The reason why was simple, the meat was loaded with all sorts of strange qi.
There existed a sort of subcategory of qi that was frequently referred to as transformative qi. Rather than going into one’s qi core, it instead impacted their spirit or body directly. A good example would be the qi restoration or healing pills. They contained this transformative qi. Rather than being absorbed by the core, the qi was immediately expended on some sort of tangible effect, like a sort of qi quasi-technique.
And monster meat had a lot of different types of this transformative qi. However, only some of it was beneficial. Eating monster meat without processing it properly was likely to cause physical illness, strange mutations in one’s body, or even just hurt their cultivation.
Neave simply didn’t have this problem.
He took another bite of the horrible-tasting orc flesh. Neave stuffed a few corpses into his dimension ring to test a hypothesis of his. Sadly, the hypothesis was wrong. He was hoping he would be able to find some life force within the meat, but no such luck. That was a damn silly idea anyway.
The overwhelming majority of everything lost its life force when it, well, died. Treasures that could restore life force didn't do so by directly providing life force, but rather they contained transformative qi that then restored one's life force indirectly.
However, there was something else he’d found within the meat. Even if he couldn’t eat it to restore his life force, he could still isolate a ton of beneficial qi. Ton was a bit of an exaggeration though. Monster meat could enhance one’s physical attributes, but there was a damn good reason very few but the most dedicated of cultivators resorted to this technique.
First, the taste was so bad Neave could even compare it to the rancid blood from the loop. Second, it was difficult, even for him to properly isolate only beneficial effects. And third, the benefits fell off rapidly.
There was also something of a fourth downside. Bowel movements got… Quite painful.
But Neave had kept doing it anyway. A bit of suffering and a challenge was the last thing that could deter him from doing something at this point. And the benefits were seriously noticeable. Neave was aware that eating monster meat was best coupled with intense physical training, but he postponed that until he fixed his missing arm and life force problems.
Still, even without any training, everything from his recovery, total stamina, strength, toughness, and even his speed had gone up by over two percent. Two percent may not seem like a lot, but a two percent improvement in everything across the board was tremendous. Without being able to cultivate, any advantage was welcome.
Neave made his way through the woods and soon enough he was regularly encountering a cornucopia of different types of monsters. Every cultivator with a unique style or specialized spirit powers had good matchups and bad matchups. Neave probably had the most unusual range of favorable and unfavorable matchups that anyone had ever seen.
There were certain iron-rank monsters, like bugs with extremely hard chitin that was near impossible for him to kill. He couldn’t rely on heavy true strikes, because he couldn’t fix the spirit damage, so he just had no way to do any damage to them whatsoever. He could use some cheesy strategies, like dropping a massive stone on them, but they just weren’t worth the time and effort.
On the other hand, he encountered a demon druid. An unusual creature that was simultaneously a gold-rank monster and an F-rank calamity. The reason why it was rated so low on the calamity rating was that it never really moved from a specific patch of forest. And the reason why it was a gold-rank threat was that its patch of forest was frighteningly dangerous.
The druid itself looked like an androgynous humanoid with wooden skin and leafy clothes. And the area of the forest it commanded was effectively one giant trap. Roots that grabbed one’s legs and swinging branches were the least of one’s concerns here. The bigger concern was the fact that every single inch of every single plant had poisonous thorns. And countless different poisons were coating the thorns of different plants, so a single antidote just wasn’t enough.
Even though Neave couldn’t kill an iron rank beetle, the demon druid wasn’t a challenge for him. Poisonous moving plants were dangerous only if they could touch you. He pelted the demon druid with countless quick true strikes.
The faster a true strike was, the less damage it could do. However, it also caused less spiritual backlash and well, it was still very fast. The demon druid had a rather tough body and immensely fast regeneration. But Neave had practically unlimited patience. True strike after true strike eventually dug right through the monster's chest and the core was cut straight from its body.
And what a majestic core it was. It was larger than Neave’s fist, which was truthfully still quite tiny, but this was a big size for a monster core. It was also strangely round, not even close to circular, but it was no jagged chunk of crystal either. It still had a few jutting edges, but it was mostly smooth.
Neave remembered reading something about round monster cores in one of the books. Weren’t they supposed to be more valuable? The book didn’t say why, but it did claim that the rounder and smoother a monster core was, the more ‘useful’ it was. It also seemed to have a regeneration-boosting spirit power, which was a damn useful power. This thing was almost definitely exceptionally expensive. Neave shrugged and threw it into the dimension ring.
After all, it was completely and utterly useless.
He had thought that perhaps the regeneration power could help with his life force problems, but that was unlikely. Regenerating the body and restoring life force were utterly different classes of power.
There was another problem, the monster the core had come from was gold-rank. This did guarantee a much greater power, but it also guaranteed a much greater challenge. Given that this core itself wouldn’t be enough to recover his lost limb and life force, he would have to evolve it first. Which would very likely mean facing a platinum-rank spirit trial. Neave didn’t know much about spirit trials, but he was one hundred percent confident that if he attempted that, he would die. And he still wasn’t guaranteed to evolve the power into one that could help him with both or hell, either one of his problems.
He also threw the demon druid's corpse in the ring. That would be quite useful too.
Neave stretched and started running. And this time he was using his movement technique. Judging by his estimates he should arrive at his destination rather soon. He was still beyond suspicious, but he was completely disregarding that fact.
A small town was unlikely to have bandits at the silver path, so even if he got attacked he would be mostly safe. That wasn’t even accounting for his stealthiness and movement techniques. If somebody too dangerous comes to hunt him down, he was confident he could escape.
And if somebody too weak came to hunt him down… Well. Perhaps they would have a useful trinket or two on their corpse?
After just half an hour of running, Neave reached Pavarrie.
Hunter was sweating profusely. He was currently located within a major city quite far away from the Zearthorn sect.
How had he made it that far in a day?
Well, it all started when he presented the book cover to an elder from a branch of the Bentheta sect. Then he was, together with the book cover and the elder he had shown it to, teleported countless miles away to their headquarters. He was currently standing in front of over two hundred highest-ranking elders of the sect and doing his best not to crap himself.
The chamber of the Bentheta Sect Master was a massive round room. The walls were of dark ashy gray stone and the elders were seated in a colosseum-style arrangement around the center of the room. On a raised throne in the middle of the room sat the Bentheta Sect Master.
He was an austere man with a jawline that looked like it was chiseled onto his face and eyes so sharp they could cut steel. In front of him, on a large pedestal, sat the book cover, and on the opposite side of the Sect Master, stood Hunter. The sect master got up and spoke in a loud, deep voice.
“Look, boy. The story you have shared is exceptionally concerning in many ways. But witness reports, especially after tragedies like this, are rarely valid evidence.”
The Sect Master raised his hand to silence Hunter and he promptly shut up.
“It is not that I do not believe that you have seen those things happen, child. The testimonies of your ex-sect members contained many of the same details you have shared. However, I can not help but think that this may have been an elaborate illusion set up either by one of the sect elders or an enemy of your sect.”
“It–It wasn’t an illusion! You can go and check! The entire sect is in ruins!”
The Sect Master raised his hand again, this time coupled with a glare that warned of serious consequences.
“Again, child. I believe that the sect has been destroyed and that elders have been killed. But, without sufficient evidence supporting this story about a monstrous child, there is little we can do. What if it was some form of illusion created by a rival sect? If we got involved in a situation like that, we’d potentially have a sect war on our hands. Worry not, however, you have my word that we will still look deeper into this issue.” The Sect Master gently smiled at Hunter and added, “You have gone through something truly horrible for a child as young as yourself. I recognize your talents as a cultivator and if you are willing you would be accepted into our sect with open arms.”
“R–Really? I… I would be very grateful for the opportunity...”
“Good, good, hahaha, you are truly a wonderful child with a righteous heart. Now, you will be escorted by one of the elders to a room. Make yourself at home, child. I expect to see great things from you in the future.” One of the minor elders that had been standing to the side walked up to Hunter and escorted him out of the room. The moment the chamber doors closed, the Sect Master’s warm expression vanished.
“Gather all the competent artificers within our sect and have them analyze this book cover. Write a message to every single spy we have within the ten nearest settlements to the Zearthorn sect and tell them to report anybody missing a left arm. No, have them report anybody missing any arms or legs.”
One of the elders spoke up.
“Sect Master, do not tell us that you truly believe the nonsense that child had spouted?”
Rather than answer the question, the sect master pulled out a sword from his dimension ring and struck the book cover with all his might. The stone pedestal underneath it shattered into pieces and even the floor cracked, but there wasn’t even a scratch on the book cover.
“I do not believe anything I hear. But this object is constructed out of truly unusual material. And the child the Zearthorn sect members speak of had likely read its contents before burning the pages. Track the child down as quickly as you can and bring them to me. As for our new disciple, provide him with appropriate benefits. Our sect is not one to leave such a great favor unreturned.”
Neave looked down onto the small town from a nearby hill. The town was completely walled off with what looked to be quite thick walls. Not to mention the fact that a rather large area surrounding the town had been cleared of any trees or large rocks. There were several towers lining the walls of the town and Neave could spot scouts keeping a lookout so that nothing dangerous would approach the town.
Neave wasn’t a wanted criminal or anything, so he could probably just walk into the town. The keyword was probably. He was still overwhelmingly suspicious, so the guards would probably have him searched or otherwise waste his time. And the last thing Neave wanted was for his time to be wasted.
The night was already approaching as the sun set and Neave could see the guards were preparing to change shifts. The scout in charge of looking out over the side of the town Neave was facing chatted amicably with the man that had come to replace him. This was when Neave moved. He sprinted at incredible speed toward the wall of the town. As he approached he pivoted, spun in the air, and landed with his left foot on the surface of the wall.
The body faded and he appeared on the other side. He landed somewhat ungracefully, as he had appeared far closer to the ground than he was expecting. But he quickly got up to his feet and brushed the dirt off his cloak.
“Who the hell are you!?”
Neave turned and spotted what appeared to be teenagers in a rather compromising position.
“Oooh! Fret not, children, you may continue, I’m not going to interrupt you!” Then he sat on the ground. “I’m just going to watch.”
The teenagers immediately got up and sprinted as fast as they could while desperately trying to put their clothes back on.
“Oh come on, don’t be like that!” Neave scoffed. “Losers.”
Neave looked around him. He was located behind the buildings lining the walls. Some were practically built right next to the wall, so he could have accidentally ended up inside someone’s house.
He jumped up above the buildings and onto a street in the town. It was surprisingly lively given how late it was. People were walking about everywhere and stands selling hot food were working full force. Neave nodded in satisfaction and walked up to one of the stands.
“Hello, good sir! Do you take monster cores as payment?”
The man cocked an eyebrow and scoffed.
“Piss off kid, I don’t serve beggars.”
Neave however, just pulled a medium-sized orc core from his dimension ring and the man immediately changed his tone.
“Oh, I apologize, esteemed sir, I did not notice your status. Wait just a bit and you will get your food.”
A man standing nearby yelled at the stand owner.
“Hey, when is my food gonna be done?”
“Shut the fuck up! You’re going to wait!”
“What! But I ordered fir–”
Then the stand owner threw a shoe at the man and he, after dodging it, reluctantly stood back.
Soon enough, Neave was handed a very large plate of delicious, glazed meat. He practically sucked it out of the bowl. And then he started crying. Even ignoring the loop, living in the sect was a life of consuming shitty food pills and very rarely actual food. Neave hadn’t had a proper meal in a truly long, long time.
He sighed contently and then walked around, cheerfully exploring the town. The people walking down the streets either ignored him, eyed him suspiciously, or steered a bit further to the side to keep some distance. Some people even hugged their kids protectively upon seeing him.
Neave however, wasn’t deterred by the cold shoulders. He kept jumping around from person to person, asking them countless questions about the town. Few people responded to him in any way, but soon enough he had the information he was looking for.
Walking down to the end of that street, Neave took a turn and walked out onto a much larger avenue. This was supposedly the main street of the town. It looked relatively empty compared to the smaller street, but that was probably just due to the size difference between them. Then, after heading down the main street for a few minutes he turned and walked into a large building.
The moment he opened the door, he was struck by the stench of alcohol and by intense noise coming from within. It was a tavern, one sponsored by the local branch of a large merchant group.
A popular place for independent cultivators, since the merchant organization used it as a trading hub. A few people glanced at Neave, many of them frowning.
In their eyes, a damn beggar child had just stepped into the tavern. The tavern's patrons made sure to teach a lesson to anyone who tried using the tavern to beg for scraps, but every once in a while someone else stepped inside and had to be re-educated.
All of the people looking at Neave froze, however, since he took a few steps inside.
He reappeared sitting next to a few younger cultivators, who didn’t even notice him at first. One of them was retelling an anecdote and just as he was about to get to a good part…
“Buhuhuhuhahaha! Hehehehe, hihihihi, HAHAHAHAHA, that is unbelievably funny, man, anyway, do you guys want to sell me your souls?”
The cultivators looked at him in utter confusion. They got a tiny peek under his hood and winced at his creepy face. Several cultivators around them were apprehensive, some even kept a hand on the hilt of their weapon, just in case. A woman sitting at the table scratched her head.
“Uhm, I’m sorry, I am not sure we know you, is there something you need?”
“No, I’m just messing with you, I don’t actually need your souls!” Then he placed a fist-sized green monster core on the table.
All of the young cultivators froze at the size and shape of the core.
“Here you go, lady, you can have it!”
The monster core was without a doubt something of exceptional value, but this creepy stranger didn’t seem like someone you’d happily deal with.
Neave then got up and walked over to the apprehensive merchant. One of the young men sitting on the table reached a hand out and touched the monster core.
“Holy shit!” The others shushed him and touched the core too, admiring the power within. They whispered among one another as the other patrons tried to sneak a peek at the monster core.
Neave walked over to the merchant, an old-looking man with a frown that looked to be seared into his face. Then he pulled a monster core out of the ring and threw it at him.
The old man caught the large bag with one hand, sighed, and responded in a practiced, formal, flat tone, showing no change in his facial expression whatsoever.
“Please, sir, refrain from throwing things at either myself or any of the patrons within the tavern. If you continue such behavior I will be forced to kick you out.”
“Wow, man, life hit you hard huh? Is the wife unhappy? Worry not, I have a solution!”
Then he threw the monster core containing the penis enlarging spirit power.
“Sir–This… This is highly inappropriate.” Then he sighed and placed the core on the counter, “What do you wish to do with the cores you’ve… Presented to me?”
“I wanna sell 'em.”
“Alright, we will have to appraise the cores you have presented and you will get the full payment two or three business days from now.”
“Is there a problem?”
“Can’t you like, give me the money now?”
The man took a peek into the bag and lifted an eyebrow.
“I apologize, but if you want the payment to be appropriate, we first need to appraise these cores.”
“Just scam me.”
“Low-ball me, rip me off, know what I mean.”
“I– Sir, I would lose my job if I did that.”
“But like why don’t you keep it a secret?”
The man slowly raised his head and glanced around the room. Nearly every single person was observing the show. He sighed.
“If you wish to receive a part of the money now, you may pawn the cores and I will give you a hundred and fifty gold coins. Then when they are appraised, you can sell them to receive the rest of your payment.”
The room stirred. A hundred and fifty gold coins just to pawn the cores he’d presented? Exactly how many cores were there in the bag?
“Can that buy me a house?”
“Indeed, it can, but that is something you will have to discuss with our real estate branch.”
“Come on, old man, I know you’re in the know with this stuff, you look the part, what’s the most expensive house in this town?”
The man sighed and responded.
“There is a mansion to the southwest of the town. It has been for sale for a while already. However, dear customer, this is a border area to a wild zone. There are many cultivators in this town, more than there are mortals, so the competition for real estate is quite high. The mansion is priced at seventeen platinum coins.”
Neave however, just shrugged.
“Okay, I’m gonna save up a bit and buy it.” The man raised an eyebrow again.
Save up a bit?
This wasn’t a particularly unusual sight around here. Every once in a while an eccentric cultivator came from a long trip and dumped all the cores they had collected along the way. But even among all the unusual cultivators that passed through here, the clerk couldn’t help but feel like this was an exception. He glanced at the table seating the cultivators that have received the exceptionally generous gift from the stranger.
“You know, if you had sold that monster core to me, you could have had over half the money needed already.”
“Well there are other things I could sell, but I sort of doubt you have the money for it.”
The clerk did not respond visibly, but even he was shaken a bit. This individual seemed a little unhinged, but if they were able to provide a core like that for free they must be quite the capable warrior. Judging by the body shape it was reasonable to assume this person was a spirit beast that had taken a humanoid form.
And judging by the lack of animalistic features, that must have meant they were at least high silver, if not even on the gold path.
For now, Neave walked up and grabbed the money off the counter, then he walked out. He found a nearby inn and booked it for over seventy days. Well, he just threw a gold coin at the innkeeper and said that he’d take whatever that could get him. Then he inspected the room he was given. He pulled another bag of miscellaneous valuables from Kamella’s ring and threw it in a corner haphazardly. Then he snuck out and teleported into the underground secret vault beneath the inn.
He wasn’t here to steal anything, he just needed somewhere to hide so he could sleep in peace.
After all, he didn't want to get killed in his sleep.
The clerk was watching the barmaids clean up the tables as he sighed yet again. He swiftly pocketed the ‘special’ monster core he was handed by the strange cultivator.
I mean, technically speaking, the cultivator did in fact gift it to him. So just… Why not…? Yeah.
He sighed yet again and this time a few of the barmaids gave him strange looks.
He had to make a report.
Another suspicious cultivator had arrived in Pavarrie.