Neave was hiding in a forest not too far from Pavarrie. He had wanted to make as much distance from the town as he could, but soon he had found the prospect of doing that damn near impossible.
His entire body ached from top to bottom. It felt like it was acid rather than blood that flowed through his veins. His spirit felt like an egg that had been hit by a sledgehammer and his muscles were twitching and cramping constantly.
At first, he thought that it was his countless injuries and severe abuse of his body and spirit that had caused this. Well, that was entirely correct, but he was realizing there was a little more to that.
For all his skill, knowledge, and his many tricks, he was still just an eleven-year-old kid at the very start of the foundation realm. What he had been doing this past week was an utterly insane level of abuse for his body and spirit. Not to even mention that he hadn’t properly recovered from any of that abuse. Burning life force to heal himself and abusing recovery pills wasn’t a proper substitute for actual recovery.
And he was damn certain that the damage he had piled up, at least on his body, was too much to ever naturally fully recover from.
He had to find another spirit power. Something that would allow him to heal. Or maybe several honestly. He dug through his dimension ring, nearly throwing up at the sensation of using it. The additional stress he was putting on his spirit was no joke. He pulled out the bag of monster cores. Then he dug through it, hoping to find something, anything that could even just hypothetically evolve into a solution to his problems.
Optimizing his spirit powers was the last thing on his mind, the only thing he was looking for was something that would save him. He hated himself for giving away the core he found in the demon dryad. That core would have been an amazing solution to his problems. He had been arrogant, discarding the power because it couldn’t restore limbs. Then he found…
None of the cores he was currently in possession of were any good for his predicament. Did this mean he had to kill more monsters? In his current state?
He wasn’t even certain that was possible.
What do I do now…
He stopped. Then he laughed. How could he be so stupid? Impossible? Was he not the one and only practitioner of the immortal arts? He would handle this the way he had handled any of the other waves before.
If there is no solution then I will make a solution.
If it is impossible then I will make it possible.
I have long ago stopped believing that it couldn’t be done.
So why would I start doing it again now?
Have I not grasped the potential of perseverance?
Have I not grasped the potential of experimentation?
Have I not grasped the potential of fun?
Now it was time to fulfill that potential.
Neave walked a bit and found a random slime. He observed the small red thing rolling around as he brainstormed ideas. But its color gave him a clue. Neave ate some leaves to load up on life force then he concentrated all that life force into his hand. Then he cut his hand and let the blood flow out into the slime. It drank up the blood and turned a deep shade of crimson. Neave could tell it had evolved into a blood slime. Then he smashed it and grabbed its monster core.
A very small core that seemed to contain a very weak spirit power. Toxic blood.
“Ah fuck, I thought that would work.”
It could work. Theoretically. However, just because it was convenient right now, it didn't mean that he would get that lucky. He had neither the life force nor the blood to spare on such experiments.
Oh well. Onto plan two then. He pulled out the corpse of the demon dryad. The dimension ring had done a good job preserving it so far. He grabbed a sword and carved out something that vaguely looked like an organ. Then he ate it. It made him feel a little better, but he felt like it had made his situation far worse in the long run. The raw organs of a demon dryad were a potent ingredient in recovery pills. While they were raw, there was the tremendous chore of having to exterminate the toxic qi among many other types of qi that weren’t very helpful.
He was out of recovery pills. Neave cursed himself for not picking up the rings of the cultivators that attacked him. So he would have to get by for now. After digesting the organ he felt his symptoms ease up a bit. This was most certainly not a permanent solution, in fact, within a few hours, he would feel drastically worse than he had felt before he had eaten the organ.
And he would very likely die.
But that was enough time for him to figure out a plan. He immediately sprinted into the woods. Then he found a cave.
Neave went inside.
Caves were generally one of the worst places you could go into on the Xinkummar continent. The sheer quantity of monsters flooding the underground made caves a horrible place to step foot into. And Neave knew this, but he had no choice. Unless he found a promising power within the next several hours, he was screwed.
So he fought and killed monster after monster, spending hours of his time trying to find a single useful power.
Luck, however, simply wasn’t on his side. He felt the effects of the organ wearing off but he hadn’t found any promising monster cores yet. And the additional strain of fighting all the monsters was threatening Neave with serious consequences unless he improvised. So he simply had no choice.
Neave quickly dug through his collection of monster cores, double-checking every single one of them to see if any of them fit his criteria. None did. Panic was starting to set in. His hand was shaking and he felt the pain set into his body again. For a second, he felt that perhaps he could combine several monster cores into one. He grabbed a few cores and enveloped both of them in the same ball of spirit. The newly created core immediately shattered and turned into dust.
Neave was running out of ideas. He had cleared all the monsters in the area, so unless he went way deeper into the cave he was screwed. Neave wasn’t sure whether he was lucky or terribly unlucky that this cave didn’t have any powerful monsters in it. His vision was getting blurry and he wasn’t sure whether he would be able to stay awake much longer.
Then he got an idea. A horrible, awful, terrible idea. One that had no guarantee to work whatsoever. Not only was the idea a tremendous gamble, but it was also something that would result in serious consequences for his future power.
But it was the only idea he had.
He started putting several monster cores on a pile. Even though he was in an awful situation, he still felt like grinning at the sheer stupidity of his plan. He looked at the various jagged pieces of spirit. And he recounted the spirit powers inside:
Nerves of steel.
Purifying bone marrow.
“This is a fucking retarded idea.” That was what he said out loud, but what he was actually thinking was:
This is a fucking brilliant idea!
It was objectively a stupid idea, one born of desperation in his moment of dire need. It was the type of idea only a little kid could come up with. If your organs were failing you, why wouldn’t you just get better ones?
He didn’t even have a spirit power related to muscles or skin. Or veins for that matter. Or many other minor organs and glands. His reasoning wasn’t completely arbitrary, however. Even if he was more or less winging it with these cores specifically, he was confident that they would at least ensure he survived. And if they evolved in the right ways, he was also confident his body would be a lot more capable of handling future abuse.
Fire lungs came from a small fire lizard. Fast liver came from an abominid. Hard kidneys also came from an abominid. Crystal heart came from a gem golem, whose body was also stored in Neave’s dimension ring. It could be sold for great coin. Or perhaps just used in some sort of wacky experiment. Rubber bones were from a slimebie. Basically, a slime that used a skeleton the way a hermit crab used a shell. Nerves of steel were from a stone golem, but it seemed to be some sort of unique variant. And purifying bone marrow had come from a poison variant abominid.
None of the creatures were very strong, even if the gem golem was rather rare. Luckily it wasn’t a crystal golem, since that would have spelled Neave’s death for sure.
All of the powers except fire lungs were incredibly imbalanced, affecting their target organs only partially. If he couldn’t manipulate spirit, he couldn’t even dream of attempting to do so many spirit trials, even on weak spirit powers. The overlapping interference would have made it completely impossible. Fighting eight monsters all sharing each other's powers would have been something he wasn't sure he could beat even if he was diamond rank. However, with his spirit manipulation on the other hand…
Neave pulled out a fine wine glass from Kamella’s ring. He didn’t have any other containers to use for diluting the monster cores in his blood, so this would have to do. He melted the fire lung stone and then he drank the blood. The hardest part about the trial was having to deal with the abominid from the absorb power. He utterly crushed the pathetic little lizard. Then he just repeated the same process for all the other spirit powers. Luckily the time within a spirit trial didn’t fully reflect the actual time that passed outside. Otherwise, he’d already be dead just from the time it took him to kill the mega-abominid every time.
After he was done with acquiring the spirit powers, then he had to evolve them.
He evolved fire lungs once and ended up acquiring the ability to breathe fire. He for some reason didn’t expect that, but that sure came in handy. The lizard evolved to be quite a bit bigger than the little fella it was, but that was hardly an additional challenge. Its ability to breathe fire, however, wasn’t as pleasant of an addition to the spirit trial. He had to evolve fast liver four times just to make it cover the entire damn liver.
Holy balls had his liver become intense! It didn’t just become faster, but apparently, it acquired incredibly quick regeneration too. Did livers naturally possess some sort of regeneration ability? Not only that, but the sheer power his liver held was so absurd he was wondering whether poison would even affect him.
Hard kidneys surprisingly only took one evolution to cover both of his kidneys entirely. He did two more just because he could. His kidneys became very hard and received a decent boost to their function. Possibly the least exciting spirit power possibly anybody had ever acquired. Especially one that had evolved three times!
Crystal heart only took one evolution. However, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Because the evolution was a lot more potent than Neave had expected. It hadn’t just evolved to cover his heart, but it evolved into crystal cardiovascular system.
What did that do anyway? Probably not much but make his veins more durable. What it did to the spirit trial, however, was it made the gem golem massive. Excellent. It was already a tough opponent, but its additional mass made it a challenge on par with the mega-abominid.
Neave had noticed that whenever he used heavy true strikes in the spirit trial his body would start falling apart. This made sense since his ‘body’ within the spirit realm was just an embodiment of his spirit. What made for a much more pleasant discovery however was the fact that he could fix his body in the spirit trial by doing the same thing that he did when he fixed his spirit outside. And it worked a whole lot better than it did with his body in the real world. It was very life-force-intensive though, and over-abusing this ability put incredible strain on his soul. Still, it made the spirit trial even easier for him, so that was a tremendous bonus.
As for rubber bones, a similar thing had happened, but not quite as drastic. The power evolved to not just cover all of his bones, but also added additional elasticity to his joints and some muscle surrounding the bones. The opponent went from being a slimebie to being a slime juggernaut. Which was a like a slimebie, but much bigger and a whole load more muscular. Slimebies usually just looked like slimy skeletons, but slime juggernauts had actual bodies of slime.
Nerves of steel only got one evolution and yet again a similar thing happened. It went from steel nerves, to steel nervous system. This was a tremendous upgrade, but Neave felt like he was already reaching the limits of what he could handle in the spirit trial. He had to eat a lot of the random roots and growth within the cave to keep restoring his life force to handle the spirit recovery, but his spirit was feeling more and more bruised with every trial. Luckily, purifying bone marrow didn’t cause another massive difficulty spike, so he just ended up fighting a slightly bigger poison abominid.
And now, his list of opponents in the spirit trial looked something like this: a gigantic abominid, a very large abominid, a small abominid with many venomous stingers on its body, a large gem golem, a big fire lizard that could breathe fire, a slime juggernaut and an extremely tough, partially metallic stone golem.
He wasn’t going to be adding any more spirit powers for now. If he could resist doing it, of course.
Neave left the cave a while back and was back to running from his potential pursuers. He wasn’t sure if there was anyone left chasing after him, but in his current state, he did not want to risk finding out. His body was still not doing very well. His muscles were cramped and tense, not to mention they hurt like hell, but he kept a small trickle of life force to help along with their recovery.
Unsurprisingly, now that his kidney, bone marrow, cardiovascular system, and liver had received a tremendous upgrade, he no longer suffered from side effects when using absorb. So his life force supply issues have been more or less permanently resolved. He could feel some minor organs screaming in agony, but that could be ignored, right?
The thing that hadn’t been resolved at all, however, was his spirit. It was doing terribly. He was banning himself from using any true strikes or even movement techniques for a while until his spirit recovered. He also kept an extremely minuscule quantity of life force flowing into his spirit.
Yet another thing that hadn’t been resolved was his arm. This was where he had decided to do something utterly insane. Compared to even his arsenal of super organs.
He was going to attempt to steal the arm of an abominid.
And then graft it to his left shoulder.