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“Hmm?” Gabrias frowned and lifted his hand to grab the cloaked figure’s attention.

“What is it?”

“He… He stopped. And now he is running back to the town.”

“Are you certain? No, that isn’t unusual, he is probably trying to hide in town. There is no way he can tell how we are tracking him. Perhaps he had judged that being in the wilderness would be to his disadvantage? It doesn’t matter. He can’t run away forever anyway.”

Gabrias however didn’t quite agree with that assessment. There was something unusual about that child. He could tell those weren’t the movements of someone running back just to hide in the town. But he kept that to himself. If the child was truly just insane and suicidal, that only worked even better for them.

***

Neave ran back at full speed towards the town. But eventually, he slowed down a bit. There was no rush. He had something he wanted to do first. He bent down to the grass and started grazing. He ate the grass straight from the ground like some sort of farm animal. If his life force got over the maximum his body can handle, it just slowly dissipated until it returned to the usual amounts.

Keyword slowly. If he kept control over the life force he could maintain a surplus of it for a while. And he would need as much life force as he could get with what he was attempting to do now. There was also the bonus of having a surplus of calories in his body. He never knew, small advantages added up.

He wasn’t certain how well he would do against this group. Compared to the time he fought Kaphor he was a little stronger, but he was also missing an arm. He was tempted to quickly pick one of the spirit powers from the ring and try to finish a spirit trial, but that would be a rash decision. He didn’t want to compromise with too many spirit powers.

He didn’t want to compromise with any of his spirit powers. And the monster cores he had access to at the moment were frighteningly underwhelming. Even though he would have a massive advantage in spirit trials, he was still only a foundation realm cultivator. And given that he couldn’t rely on spirit powers while inside a spirit trial, he would eventually still reach a limit on how difficult a spirit trial he could handle. So for now he settled for extra life force and energy.

Neave got off the ground. He stretched and flexed his muscles. He took off the cloak and put it in the dimension ring. It would only slow him down. All he was wearing now was a plain white linen shirt and sturdy wool pants. His left sleeve hung empty to his side as he gave a few practice swings to the greatsword.

Good.

It was time to begin.

Neave sprinted towards the town wall and used a movement technique to make it to the other side. He took a look around and found none of the people hunting him. His spirit senses were overloaded by the scores of people walking through the main streets. But he didn’t have to find his targets. They just had to find him.

Then he walked over into the main street and started yelling.

“Hey, fuckers! It’s me! Are you looking for me? Well, I am right here! Come on out! No need to be scared!”

Suddenly a figure appeared out of nowhere from the shadows behind Neave. A cultivator wielding an ominous dagger in one hand, still partially wrapped in shadow. Neave couldn’t tell whether it was a man or a woman as the rather large white cloak they were wearing, as well as their mask, hid all their features. Neave didn’t expect somebody to appear like that, so he wasn’t prepared to respond properly. He threw out a quick true strike to parry the blow, but the backlash made his wrists bend from the stress.

He quickly regained his footing and used a movement technique to get behind the shadowy figure's back. An arrow flew from one of the rooftops, whistling as a small whirlwind of air spun around it and it grazed Neave’s left side of the body. Neave stepped back as the shadowy figure in front of him was about to attack him again and used some of his life force to stop the bleeding.

The people all around them were screaming for the guards to show up and running for their lives. The guard arrived soon after but also joined the civilians in running away after witnessing what was happening.

Best not to get involved in stuff like that.

One of the cultivators, a person Neave had injured back in the mansion, appeared from behind one of the buildings and ran at Neave. Three more people wearing the same outfit appeared from the small alleys and ran toward him. Neave heard another arrow flying towards him and he dodged, simultaneously appearing behind the shadowy figure's back. He wanted to use the strongest attack he could, but the shadowy figure was already starting to turn around as it had immediately spotted him. Neave clicked his tongue and resorted to a quick true strike. It left a shallow cut on the cultivator's back.

Yet another person appeared jumping down from a building next to Neave, wielding a longsword. They swung the long sword at Neave, but Neave dodged out of the way. The strike missed and shattered the stone paving of the road. One of the figures ran towards Neave and threw out a punch. Neave used a true strike to parry it. The punch held such tremendous force behind it that the shockwave it sent out collapsed the wall of the building next to them. Neave suffered a serious backlash from parrying the strike and attempted to create some distance from the swordsman.

One of the cultivators that had appeared previously instantly sped up. They moved at such speed towards Neave that he simply couldn’t respond to their attacks on time. He took a punch to the chest, the stomach, and a hard kick to his leg. He twisted in the air to at least minimize the damage from the punches, but the kick broke Neave’s femur and flung him away toward the middle of the road.

Neave bit the hilt of his sword to keep it in place as he manually adjusted the bone in his leg with his arm. Then he used a good bit of life force to seal the bone back into one piece. He plopped to the ground rather disgracefully and hurried to get up. The fast cultivator was running out of steam and Neave was preparing to capitalize on the moment of weakness, but he had to dodge another insanely fast arrow that once again grazed the side of his torso.

It was at this very moment that the cultivator with the insanely powerful punch landed one of those punches on Neave's side. He felt his entire body contort as he went flying at incredible speed. Rather than hit a wall or land on the ground, the shadowy figure from before appeared in his path and stabbed him with the dagger.

Neave fell to the ground, barely conscious as he felt his life draining from his body.

YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND, THIS IS THE GIMMICK OF THE EIGHTH WAVE, YOU ONLY GET ONE ATTEMPT.

Those damn words echoed in his mind.

He couldn’t let himself die here.

“We have immobilized him, but I believe he had suffered too much damage to survive much longer. We will restrain him and administer first aid.”

The shadowy figure was talking to someone. The rest of them were walking towards them quickly, but they weren’t running.

So they want to restrain me?

They must envy my freedom.

No.

They must envy my chains.

Neave focused every remaining bit of consciousness that he could. He was not in a position to execute a true strike, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t do damage. And he only needed to do a little bit. He swung the sword, investing a bit of his life force into making the attack as strong as it could be. He caught the shadowy figure off guard as he cut three of their fingers off their hand. The shadowy figure screamed in surprise and fright, jumping back in panic to make some distance from Neave.

Then all of the cultivators watched in horror as Neave ate the severed fingers.

Silver path cultivators sure have a lot of life force in their bodies.

He used the life force to quickly patch up his most severe injuries. His entire body was in agony and he wasn’t fully healed by any means. But the pain he could endure.

Immediately all of the cultivators sprinted at Neave, no longer underestimating him. Neave healed the most urgent wounds and got up to his feet, dodging another one of the wind arrows in the process. Neave got up and ran towards the group of people. They readied themselves to strike as Neave took one, two delicate steps, jumped, and disappeared.

Then he appeared behind them. Their moment of shock left a small opening for Neave and he used it to his advantage. A true strike landed on one of the cultivators' necks, cutting the jugular vein open.

“Shit!” They screamed, blood spluttering out of their mouth.

Neave dodged another arrow and the swordsman took a swing at Neave.

What shitty swordsmanship.

Neave scoffed at the mighty but poorly executed blow as he dodged out of the way. One of the cultivators started speeding up again, but Neave immediately made eye contact with them. They froze for just a second, chills running down their spine at Neave’s predatory gaze. But as they regained their resolve and rushed to Neave. The figure sped up, getting ready to pummel Neave once again.

Neave feigned a dodge, but then immediately shifted into an incredibly fast true strike. The cultivator wasn't expecting Neave to attack and at their current speed, they weren't capable of slowing down or avoiding the attack. Neave's sword met the fast figure’s neck, not decapitating it, but rather sinking into it and severing the spinal cord. They dropped dead to the ground.

“You fucking bastard!” Another one of the cultivators ran at Neave, punching at him. Neave wanted to parry the strike but canceled the parry at the last moment as the cultivator’s hand turned into solid crystal. He almost lost his sword. Neave took a step back and appeared just a bit behind. He appeared behind the person he had injured in the mansion just as they were about to stab him in the back.

He swung his sword and a fast true strike added another shallow cut to their back. Suddenly, the archer fired four arrows in a row. Neave managed to dodge three of them, but the fourth hit his stomach and embedded itself into his gut. Neave had moved to make sure the arrow didn't hit any critical areas.

Two of the cultivators ran at Neave again and he noted that one of them was the one that could crystalize their body.

The cloaks made them look virtually indistinguishable and they hid their qi. But the cloaks weren’t fully optimized for hiding life force. Neave could still sense subtle differences between each of them and tell them apart.

Neave tried to surprise them by using a movement technique coupled with a true strike kick to the head, but they crystallized their head too, mitigating the majority of the attack. The shadowy figure appeared again, but Neave sensed them moments before they did. They slashed at Neave with the dagger, but Neave parried the dagger blow, using the recoil from the parry, as well as the recoil from the failed kick to set up a stronger true kick to their wrist. Their wrist was now broken and the other hand was still missing three fingers.

Neave twisted in the air to dodge another arrow, however, the swordsman then appeared. Neave did his best to avoid most of the attack, but the sword still cut half of his left foot off. That was terrible news. He used some life force to stop the bleeding, but this would slow him down drastically.

Neave could tell they thought they had him now. After all, the pain should stop him from using a movement technique, right?

Pain could not stop him from doing anything.

Neave landed on the ground, used a massively expensive movement technique, and appeared on top of the house behind the archer.

The cultivator that was standing next to Gabrias had a communication spirit power and they were in charge of coordinating the attack. The moment they saw Neave appear behind the archer, they panicked hard.

“No! behind you!”

But it was too late. A true strike through the heart ended the archer on the spot.

Neave looked down from the building as the scattered cultivators stared at him in shock. He grinned. Then he lifted his sword. Suddenly, they could hear a terrible, deep vibration coming from him. The dust and debris around him picked up in a whirlwind and sparks of electricity flickered through the air around him.

Neave used a movement technique to appear behind one of the cultivators. Then he decapitated them. The rest of them were panicking and the man on the wall was screaming at them to get their shit together. But it was too late now.

The crystal cultivator ran out of formation and rushed Neave, but Neave used the opening the man’s rash decision created to appear next to the shadowy cultivator. The injured one and the swordsman rushed Neave to intercept him, collapsing their formation entirely. Neave dodged another sword slash as he landed several quick true strikes, cutting open their throat, wrists, and femoral arteries in the process. The shadowy cultivator kicked their dagger at Neave since they couldn’t carry it in their hands.

Neave couldn’t dodge it in time and got another object embedded in his gut.

The injured one struck out at Neave but Neave parried the strike. Yet another one of the cultivators rushed at Neave as the shadowy figure threw out kicks at Neave from behind. Neave dodged a kick and cut the throat of the person pressing the attack on him. The swordsman was getting dizzy from the excessive blood loss, so Neave used the moment to appear behind them and stab them in the back of the head.

“You… You damned!” The shadowy figure snapped and ran at Neave, but Neave simply used a true strike to decapitate them.

“Shit! Those fucking morons!” The individual orchestrating the fight was seriously panicking now. They have lost far too many of their group to this child. They weren’t expecting to lose any forces at all! And now there are only three of them left! They had to salvage this situation somehow. Their only saving grace was the fact that this child seemed to be truly worth the effort they’d invested into capturing him. What kind of insane secret did that book hold?

Just as he was thinking this, one of the last three remaining fighters panicked. And their hands started to glow.

“No, don’t you fucking dare! We need that child alive!”

“Stay the hell away from me!” The cultivator yelled as bright fire gathered and concentrated in their hands.

Neave merely stood and grinned. As the cultivator prepared to throw the spirit power at Neave, Neave slowly swung his sword downwards. The blast flew out at Neave and the true strike that met it looked like it cut the entire explosion in two. But Neave couldn’t fully avoid the blast. And neither could the person he had injured back at the mansion.

The fire seared Neave’s skin. His ears and eyes were burned. He was standing, alive, but just barely. He couldn’t see and he couldn’t hear.

But he didn’t need eyes.

He sensed the waning qi from the figure laying on the ground next to him. Then he walked over to them. Neave bent over and bit their neck, sucking the blood out. As his body filled with life force, he grew back his skin, fixed his ears, and recovered his eyes. He had to stop since he felt if he absorbed any more of anything he would be doing more damage than he would be fixing.

“M–Monster… You’re a damn monster!” The explosive power wielder prepared to use another blast, but Neave was in front of them in seconds. And their head lay on the ground soon after. The last person hesitated. It was the one that could crystalize their body. Neave was looking at them.

And they turned around to run. However, every hair on their body stood as they felt the pressure of Neave’s strike behind them. Immediately, they crystallized their entire body. Neave's strike landed but the impact was absorbed and Neave’s sword got snapped in two.

“Oh, that was close…” It was a man’s voice.

Neave walked in front of him.

“Old man, that is quite the spirit power you have. I can not imagine you could be using it without any consequences.”

The man winced at Neave’s words but stayed silent.

“Well, I don't care anyway.” Neave took a stance. He was moving exceptionally slowly, but it felt like he could move mountains with every one of his movements. His foot landed on the ground with a resonant thud. And immediately, all the dust and debris were blown away from the two of them. The man was panicking, contemplating his options but he couldn’t move.

Once he crystallized a part of his body, it took a while before he could undo it.

And that while increased a lot for crystalizing his entire body.

Neave’s fist moved ponderously through the air as golden runes shone all around them, brighter than the sun. He loaded his spirit with life force in advance, preparing for the severe impact that was about to come. And then his fist made contact with the man’s body.

The impact shattered the nearby stone and the shockwave spread hairline cracks through the entire road. The man’s body was blown away into hundreds of bits and quickly those bits returned to normal flesh, blood, and gore raining all over the street.

Neave coughed out blood. And barely stopped himself from passing out.

He felt like something was wrong with him. His entire body was sluggish and his spirit felt heavy. The life force flowed through his body like molasses where it usually flowed like water. But he had to move. So he took a few steps, one by one. He sped up as he got used to the weird feeling. Then he disappeared between the buildings.

“Gabrias! We have to go!”

Garbias stood frozen, the terrifying display of brutality he had just witnessed seared into his brain.

“No… I mean, I can’t. I am only on the bronze path and I do not have any movement techniques or mobility spirit powers! I can't just jump off the wall!”

The man was about to object, but he clicked his tongue instead and jumped off the wall. But try as he may, he couldn’t find Neave anywhere without Gabrias' help. And soon enough, Gabrias sensed Neave yet again appearing on the other side of the town wall.

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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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