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In the headquarters of the Bentheta sect, Gabrias and the man that had led the group of cultivators to Pavarrie were tied up and kneeling on the ground in front of the sect master. Gabrias looked fine, but the man next to him was bruised and bloody.

They both would have been dead if there hadn’t been so many witnesses to what had happened in Pavarrie. The first thing their superiors thought when they learned of their failure was that they had betrayed the sect. How else would the details of their story make any sense? A child slaughtering several non-combatant elders from an inferior sect was one thing, but that same child annihilating a highly trained squad of professional assassins was another thing altogether.

They had presented their explanation and the sect master had listened to them. He wasn’t particularly interested in excuses. And they seemed to have plenty of those.

‘The combatants were trying to capture the child, so they weren’t using lethal force.’

‘They had to hide the forms of the Bentheta sect so somebody wouldn’t discover their origin.’

‘Nobody had expected the child to be so powerful.’

The sect master simply had no interest in any of that. But he wasn’t that angry either. He lamented the loss of such a competent squad, but the fact that they had been annihilated also signified another important bit of news.

The rumors might not have been an exaggeration. They may have even been an under exaggeration.

Either that or the child had acquired more power in some way in the last week.

If the boy was capable of doing something like this, there was no point in holding back. Kaigo Bentheta had ordered several cultivators of the golden path to track the child down and capture him. However, rumors have unfortunately already spread… He just hoped they would be the first to find him. The man by the name of Gabrias was luckily still tracking the child’s position with his spirit power.

“Alright. Habrin, you will be detained and sent to a correction facility for your failure. And you, Gabrias, are going to be assisting with hunting the child again.”

Gabrias winced at that and his heartbeat sped up considerably. But he couldn’t say anything.

Even if he didn’t want to go anywhere near that monster again.

Gabrias was dismissed. So he went on a walk through the Bentheta sect. The funeral for the squad that had been annihilated had been held just a few hours back. He had missed it as he was detained at the time. But he walked over to the sect graveyard anyway.

A man was standing there. He was just looking at the unmarked graves. Those who lived as assassins for the sect had very few personal connections besides one another. But the connections they had were strong. This man stood above their graves, his shoulder-length blonde hair draping over his eyes.

Gabrias wanted to walk away, but his curiosity won over in the end. The man looked at him, but he wasn't furious or blaming Gabrias. His eyes were a bit puffy and he looked tired.

"You're the one tracking that thing, right?"

Gabrias nodded.

"Well... Worry not. Next time I will be among those accompanying you.” The air suddenly grew colder around the man. “And we will not let that creature get away."

***

A band of around thirty cultivators was standing near the edges of a forest. It was the forest that connected to the wild zone surrounding Pavarrie. A scruffy man was squatting with his hands over his knees and chewing on a piece of dried grass. His hair was dark, long, and greasy. He was wearing a black leather vest and had bandages wrapped around his arms. Many of the cultivators surrounding him were dressed similarly. One of them stepped out of the crowd and walked up to him. It was a fat man with a fancy mustache.

“Hey, bro. Are you sure that chasing this thing is a smart idea?”

The man squatting responded in a deep, raspy voice.

“Got no clue. But I’m no bitch. We ain’t no bitches now are we?”

The rest of the cultivators behind him cheered and whistled.

“We’ll find that boy and then once we have him, well… I don’t know. Maybe we’ll ransom him, maybe we’ll have him tell us his secrets. Maybe both. Maybe we’ll crack him open and find a monster core in there. Who knows? Now get the fuck up you pieces of shit. It’s time to get going. Spread out and if you see anything unusual, follow the protocol. Go!”

***

Neave was, surprisingly enough, recovering just fine. Not even just fine, he had recovered rather rapidly. By the end of the same day as acquiring his ridiculous set of spirit powers, he had already nearly fully recovered from his injuries. Well, his spirit was still rather mangled and he was missing an arm and half a foot, but other than that he was mostly fine. He was suspecting that some of his spirit powers were playing a much greater role than he originally thought. His spirit was still suffering from the damage, but Neave felt it recovering, however slowly.

Without a doubt, the greatest contributor to his recovery was probably the insane quantity of life force he was constantly burning. He couldn’t tell whether it was the new liver or the bone marrow that was doing it, but one of those two was enabling him to use the absorb spirit power with little consequence.

He was no longer burning the life force to speed up the recovery, however.

That method was excellent for a quick and dirty recovery, but it didn’t mend the body properly.

Neave had resorted to a far more complex strategy for properly recovering his body. He focused and observed the way his life force flowed through his body. The places where it seemed to lag or falter were the parts he focused on. He constructed incredibly complex structures out of his life force. He carefully noted the precise ways his body was faltering and directed the life force to mend those issues better rather than faster.

It was something he wasn’t even really aware he could do. Rather than speeding it up, he can instead use his life force to allow his body to recover from the types of overuse and injuries that would normally be impossible to recover from. There was little point in testing something like that out while in the loop. It was only now that he got to enjoy himself and properly experiment with the powers he had acquired.

Neave vaguely felt a deeper layer of consequences that he wasn’t properly recovering from. No matter what he did, he couldn’t brute force the recovery of these ailments. He was hoping they slowly went away with time.

At first, he was traveling through the woods in the direction he assumed to be leading toward the capital of the empire. Then he realized he had no idea where he was going. There was a relatively easy way to figure it out, but for now, he didn’t want to rush.

It wasn’t like he was on a timer to get there as quickly as possible. Soon after realizing he was lost, he just… Stopped going anywhere. He wasn’t strictly sticking to one area, but he wasn’t actively traveling out of the woods.

Once he’d had a night of sleep, he woke up in a relatively serene forest. Serene if you ignore the bestial screams you could hear every few seconds in the distance. Abominids weren’t the quietest monsters.

It was somewhat of a misnomer to call abominids a species. They were more of a category of monster. Slimes ate random bugs or dead animals and evolved into abominids that had the properties of those creatures that were eaten. And there was an extremely large range of different potential monsters that could end up being created.

Slimes usually had extremely misshapen cores. Those cores only grew to be more and more misshapen over time. However, once a slime reached the big or giant stages, usually, small parts of its core can start separating and becoming independent slimes. Eventually, if the resulting core was even enough, the slime could then become an abominid. On the contrary, if the core never became even enough, the slime just kept growing ad infinitum. And they could get really massive.

But it was only in relatively rare cases that a core became even enough for a slime to turn into something other than an abominid. Well, either an abominid or some sort of golem. Those two were by far the most common. But golems, just like abominids, were rarely fully or even partially humanoid. Most monsters did not directly evolve from slimes but were rather birthed or created by another monster.

That was one of the things that made monsters such a massive problem. They seemed to possess near-infinite ways to propagate.

Neave was currently catching small abominids and feeding them to a big slime he had found. If he was discovered to be doing this, he would immediately get a rather large ransom on his head. There were few things quite as taboo as monster experimentation. And Neave just learned one of the main reasons why.

The slime evolved into a rather problematic flesh golem right in front of Neave’s eyes. It took him a good deal of time to kill it, as flesh golems were very sturdy and had insane regeneration. Unluckily for Neave, the monster core it dropped wasn’t a regeneration speed-up. It was an ability that allowed one to grow extra limbs!

Except these limbs would be extremely misshapen and it didn't come with a ‘detach monstrous limb’ ability. Spirit powers were a seriously strange phenomenon the more Neave learned about them. They seemed so random yet so… Deliberate.

It was weird. Monsters in general were weird. Why did monsters with more even cores end up looking humanoid? That was an utterly baffling phenomenon, even for scholars. The currently leading theory was that the same underlying mechanism as with spirit beasts taking a human form was responsible for this.

The thing that surprised Neave was the sheer variety and complexity of different spirit powers he found. Such powers were frequently discarded as trash, either due to being unstable, unbalanced, unreliable, or too weak. However, even these powers could evolve into seriously impressive stuff.

The biggest reason why weak spirit stones were considered trash was that the way they would evolve was completely unpredictable.

A good example would be Neave’s kidneys. Or his fire-breathing ability.

Spirit powers most often worked like true strikes, in the sense that they did not consume any type of energy, but rather put a load on the individual's spirit. Very rarely they consumed qi and even more rarely they could consume life force. This was only the case for active spirit powers.

Passive spirit powers, like those Neave possessed, didn't work like that. When one consumed a spirit power, it was like adding a foreign spirit to their own spirit. For passive powers, only this foreign spirit suffered the extra burden.

What was extremely unusual with Neave’s fire-breathing ability, however, was that the fire breathing seemed to be more of a byproduct of the spirit power rather than the spirit power itself. It didn’t put an extra burden on his spirit, use qi, or use life force, but rather it seemed to use a completely mundane source of energy. If Neave used fire breathing too much, he just got hungry. And when he ate food, he could do it again. This synergized exceptionally well with his ability to absorb food into his body quickly.

Neave was currently in the process of looking for ways to regrow half of his left foot and his entire left arm. There were already some spirit powers that could technically fulfill those requirements but with a massive catch.

There was a small lizard-like abominid he had killed that held the power to regrow lost limbs. The issue was that those limbs you regrew would be tiny lizard limbs. Perhaps an evolution could at least turn them into regular-sized lizard limbs and although Neave found the idea of having a scaly left arm neat, he was rather apprehensive about the actual functionality of something like that.

Similar issues were there with the others he had found. There was one that allowed him to construct additional limbs out of stone, courtesy of a stone golem. Or another that achieved something similar but with wood.

While he wasn’t putting them off the table, it was infinitely better to just regrow a normal limb out of the flesh he was made off. Reason why? Because of his other spirit powers of course. Crystal cardiovascular system, steel nervous system, and rubber bones all wouldn’t work on limbs that weren’t of the same construction as his natural limbs.

He had concluded that out of all the powers he had gained, it was surprisingly rubber bones that he thought had the most potential. It didn’t truly make his bones rubbery, but rather his bones worked just as usual.

Until they suffered enough force to break. Then, rather than breaking, they would bend. Not just that, but it allowed him to do some peculiar martial arts moves that would usually put too much stress on his joints.

He had gotten an idea for how to fix his missing limbs, but it was… Extremely unhinged. And very dangerous. Also not very likely to work.

He was looking for an abominid that had a foot growing that was similar in shape and relative size to his own. After he had finally found an abominid like that, he killed it and cut its foot off. Then, with surgical precision, he cut the foot into the exact shape required to replace his missing foot.

The foot was similar in shape and size to his own, but it was a ton hairier and the skin was dark brown. The nails looked nasty too. He had a solution for those issues, however. He first needed to attach the foot to his own.

The flesh where his foot was cut off was very scabbed over and dried. Neave just cut the scabbed and dried part off and immediately attached the newly acquired foot. Then he burned a ton of life force to seal them together.

Immediately, an agony unlike anything he’d felt in a while consumed his body. It felt like his life force was bitten and like his very spirit was under attack. He knew what was happening. The remnant spirit from the foot was fighting with his own. It was a fight Neave could win, however, sadly, that would also mean he would destroy the foot in the process. He sighed and removed the newly added foot. But he didn’t give up yet.

He had an idea, although it was somewhat of a shot in the dark. Neave pulled out a small steel cauldron from Kamella’s ring. He wished it was a little smaller, but any other containers in the ring were either too tiny or too large. So this was the best he could do for now. Then he filled the cauldron with liquid spirit.

It drained him quite hard, which was exactly why he wished it was smaller. The drain on his life force was one thing, but his qi reserves were minuscule. There was very little he could do about that, however. Without cultivating further, the only solution he had was stockpiling qi recovery items and hoping he didn’t have to take more of them than his spirit could handle.

Neave then ate some random plants around him to recover his life force. He just straight up bit off a small branch and chewed it. He ended up with several splinters stuck between his teeth.

"Ugh, shit."

Oh well.

Neave concentrated. He compressed as much life force as could manage into the very tip of his finger. At the point where it felt like the finger would explode if he compressed any more life force, he grabbed the sword he had in his teeth and used it to cut the finger. The blood that had flown out of the finger and into the cauldron was practically glowing red.

The mixture of liquid spirit and life force hadn’t yet done anything. It looked to be whirling and Neave could see what looked like tiny sparks of red lightning flickering in the mixture. Then he pressed his hand to the cauldron.

Pouring qi into the mixture wouldn’t be as simple as pouring the life force in. After all, qi needed a proper medium. You couldn’t just push it into something.

Then Neave brainstormed his options. Perhaps he could imbue a piece of gold with qi? He had golden coins. He would only have to melt the gold into the mixture then and…

Would that work?

But what would happen with the gold that entered the mixture?

No, that wouldn’t work. Neave thought about just imbuing the qi directly into the spirit. After all, liquid spirit isn’t a well-known substance, perhaps its properties could be unique in some way. But when he tried he felt that it wouldn’t work either.

He couldn’t give up here. What he was trying to do was construct a qi bridge that would connect his spirit to the substance within the cauldron. Then he could use his life force manipulation on the life force swimming around in the liquid spirit. He would use the life force to push the liquid spirit into the limb to ‘wash out’ the remnant spirit of the abominid. This was something that could only theoretically work.

Neave had a sneaking suspicion that remnant spirit wasn’t ethereal spirit, but rather liquid spirit. In the book he had read, the subject of remnant spirit was briefly covered. It was certain that it wasn’t the same substance as ethereal spirit, but what it was exactly seemed to be a total mystery. It was theorized that it could be a sort of mutated life force, or a certain type of qi that caused the usual problems with using animal, spirit beast, or monster parts as ingredients in alchemy. It was named remnant spirit since it held certain properties that were kind of similar to spirit but not really.

Neave could only assume it was liquid spirit. He didn’t have any actual evidence for this, but at least attempting to do this could potentially yield some sort of results. Then he pondered how to construct the qi bridge. The reason he used the cauldron was specifically that they were designed with qi imbuement in mind. But they only acted as a medium, it was the substance itself that had to be receptive to qi. Neave could create a qi bridge to the foot directly, but that wouldn't achieve what he needed.

As his hand was resting on the cauldron he contemplated.

The potential of perseverance.

The potential of fun.

The potential of experimentation.

Could the concept of experimentation be receptive to qi?

He blinked. Why not? Then he concentrated. Rather than focusing on any one substance or element within the cauldron, he contemplated the process, the intention, and the potential of the results he could accomplish. Then it clicked.

Well, well, well… Could this be yet another important secret?

He giggled like a madman.

***

Neave looked at his newly acquired left arm. It was still a little brownish and had strangely thick hair, but he felt it slowly morphing and taking the shape of his previous arm. The only reason he even dared to use this method was because of his purifying bone marrow. If there ended up being any strange substances within his blood as a consequence of his body cells slowly replacing the abominids, his bone marrow would at least keep him safe from them.

“Well, now.” He stretched and flexed his newly attached limbs. He was finally back in one piece. Now it was time to do something he desperately needed to take care of. Since he couldn’t yet cultivate, the only ways he could acquire more power were either additional spirit powers, treasures that could affect his body directly, or physical training.

He had new spirit powers.

With absorb, his organs, and his qi control, any monster's flesh effectively became a treasure.

So the only thing left to do was to train.

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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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