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?
What the hell happened to make him do this? What happened to make him able to do this?
Harel contemplated that. There were 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 whirled. She simply had no idea what she should do. The sect master will undoubtedly 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 still shivered 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 was that he’d 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. She doubted she could truly beat him in a fight if he were even at the iron path, with movement techniques like that and with such skill with the sword.
If that was the case, anyone except the sect master probably couldn’t defeat him, either.
Finally, she chose to leave the chamber. She would decide what to do depending on what she discovered outside.
Neave stood before elder Kaphor in one of the sect’s hallways. He smiled broadly but knew this would be a different story than 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. 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.
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 in a weak voice and maintained a subdued tone 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 simply 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!”
“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.
They stared at each other as elders and senior disciples poured into the hallway around them. Neither of them made a move, however. They stood, both observing their opponent.
The tension between them felt like a physical substance filling the air. Neave made a move. He appeared right before Kaphor. Kaphor blocked Neave’s thrust and kicked, slashed with the sword from above, thrust at Neave, and cut again from the side.
Neave barely dodged the relentless strikes. He didn’t even have time to retaliate as kaphor closed his options off by utilizing the phantom attacks.
Even though he barely avoided the strikes, he still wasn’t getting hit. The elders have already created distance from them as Kaphor’s strikes sent flying qi techniques at the nearby walls, collapsing the hallways.
Neave took the fight outside into the courtyard as the walls opened up. Kaphor noticed an opening and swung at Neave’s arm. Neave couldn’t move his arm out of the way in time, and Kaphor cut his index finger off.
Kaphor grinned as he felt the attack connect, but then he saw the golden light, and Neave grinned back.
Kaphor barely dodged the true strike thrust, but it still tore through his chest and opened a large gash. He jumped back from Neave, clutching at his bleeding chest. Yet, he smiled anyway. 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.
Neave once again blurred and appeared to the left of Kaphor. Kaphor barely blocked the true strike in time, feeling the pressure building on his wrist. He had to abandon the two-handed grip since Neave’s strike had torn his left pec too severely. A blue mist suddenly surrounded kaphor as he glowed. 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 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 moves to avoid the phantom strikes.
Even though he dodged significant damage, minor cuts pelted his entire body. He could remove the toxic qi, but not 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, severing Neave’s arm clean off.
Kaphor’s face twisted in a wicked grin. The fight was over.
Neave’s right arm glowed with a red tinge. Kaphor had jumped forward to extend his reach. Now he was stuck in the air as he watched Neave take a stance.
An ugly grimace swiftly replaced his wicked grin.
Neave’s entire arm lit up with crimson embers. It smashed into Kaphor’s gut with a deep thud.
Kaphor reeled and bounced a bit from the impact.
Neave took a better stance. Golden runes surrounded him, congealing around his fist. He moved slowly, runes shining brightly enough to light up the entire courtyard.
Now, the fight was truly over.
Neave’s first struck Kaphor’s torso, the impact pushing blood out of every orifice in his body. He spun helplessly in the air as Neave got into another stance.
Golden runes shone brighter than the midday sun as he prepared a kick. A really slow kick. Kaphor tried to do anything to dodge the strike, but he could only watch in despair as he fell right onto Neave’s foot.
Bloody mist sprayed through the air, and the earth lifted around Neave’s feet. Elder Kaphor flew like a rag doll and smashed into the stone walls of the Zearthorn sect building, blowing through the walls like a boulder and sprawling across the ground, unmoving.
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 powerful true strike and kill elder Kaphor.
His blood ran cold.
Harel was seriously about to pass out from panic. She witnessed Neave kill elder Kaphor. Not only that, but she’d also heard he killed several other elders. 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 had hoped. He spent almost half his life force, a truly idiotic mistake now that he had to fix the issue. He couldn’t wish to reattach his arm as the poison rotted it to mush. It took every bit of qi control he could execute to remove the toxic qi from his body. He had to settle for sealing it off until he could regain his strength.
He had to spend even more life force 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 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.
Yet, in the face of every single one of these things, he still grinned.
The satisfaction of utterly destroying that wretched old man was worth every bit of damage he had taken.
As the shit he found himself in deepened, he could only pray that was it for the damage he would take.
His utterly livid father standing before him made him believe those prayers would likely go unanswered.
“What are you? What the hell have you done to my son!?”
Even though Neave knew he was 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, yet he regained himself quickly. Neave could see he had resolved to something. He could practically feel the seconds counting to his death, but he pressed on.
“I can’t believe you’d let this sort of shit pass under your nose. What kind of a sect master are you? Look at all that happened today! You are so lucky, father! In the end, all I’ve done is your fucking job!”
“Silence demon. You will not seduce me with your deceit.”
“I suppose the privilege of deceiving you is reserved for the elders?”
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 wish for! You are the worst, even among all of these villains! Am I not everything you wanted me to be!? Look at me, father! I am a mighty warrior now, standing before my fallen enemy! 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 do it! Do it already, you idiot! For once, stop being a fucking coward!”
Marven snapped at that and readied his sword for a thrust. He barely stopped himself as Harel jumped in front of Neave.
Everyone held their breath.
“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 a demonic spirit possesses him!”
“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!” Even Harel felt 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 has gone mad and showed her back 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!”
Marven glanced from the elders to Harel, from Harel to Neave, and back yet again to the elders. His breath sped up, his heart roared, and his arms shook.
“Stop hesitating and do it!”
Why do I hesitate?
“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 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 shook. 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 in this realm that could replicate that sarcasm.
They were right.
He wasn’t cut out to be a sect master.
Marven laughed. The crowd around him froze; some even screamed in fright.
“Had the demon possessed the sect master as well?”
“Heavens, help us!”
Marven emitted no pressure, and a void expanded rapidly in everyone’s gut. Neave looked at the mood and… Well…
He bolted. Just started running.
Given all the injuries and exhaustion, he wasn’t running particularly fast, but Marven didn’t chase 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 shocked as several elders ignored his explicit commands and ran after Neave without hesitation. They didn’t get very far, however, as seemingly out of thin air, invisible blades 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. He pulled out a small purple pill.
“This is the antidote to the poison Neave was being fed.”
“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 give Neave the antidote and fix the problem? I was an utter fool. 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?
He finally had the answer to her question.
“For years, I have compromised. I’ve played politics and acted like a pushover because it was convenient. Look at what my apathy had cost me. Each time I compromise between what’s right and what you want, I move our sect closer to being demonic. 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 and cultivator of the platinum path, declare the Zearthorn sect a demonic one!”
Elders gasped and screamed.
“He’s lost his mind!”
“And from this moment onwards... I disband the sect.”
The elders paused, but then one 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!”
“Yeah! You’re a terrible sect master anyway!”
“With behavior like this, we’d be better off without you!”
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 correctly. You're under my rule as long as you stay with this sect! And I, in the name of Emperor Jeevian Lloude Dust, use my authority 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, yet Rashia’s head detached, and her body collapsed
“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 screaming, some even running away, but Marven continued.
“Elder Bankor, for selling sect secrets to a rival sect, I sentence you to death!”
Another head rolled. 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 cried tears of fury, "Because none of you are worth your weight as cultivators! Nor are you worth a damn as people."
His anger still flared, burning hotter than the sun, but as he saw 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.
The eternal weight of his regret sank in.
“As long as you choose to stand within this sect’s premises, I consider you my subjects. 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.”
Instantly, everyone broke into a run except Marven and Harel, who peed herself a little in fright. The word soon spread to the junior disciples of the sect, and soon enough, even they packed their things and left.
The elders and senior cultivators swiftly collected anything they owned, 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.
His children. His own children died at his hands.
Harel had been pretending to be invisible but 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’m so stupid and pathetic. Please, do not call me that anymore. I’m no sect master. I never truly had been.” Marven looked at Harel.
She could see deep sadness and regret in his teary eyes as they bore 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. He doesn’t deserve a father like I. And I… And I…” Then he grabbed his mouth and wept.
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 man that had wasted such fortune through failure after failure.
The man that now watched his life’s work crumble before his eyes.
After pouring his heart out, Marven steeled his resolve. He picked Harel up and rapidly ascended the mountain next to his sect. He could still retrieve some valuables but couldn’t bear to carry such mementos of his failure. When he felt the last disciple leave the sect premises, he turned to Harel.
“I will show you 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.” 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 celestial blue light. As he took a deep breath, the energy condensed. The ground around him shook, and the sword buzzed like an angry steel hornet.
The blue energy shot out and materialized into an enormous 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 the sword down, the gigantic phantom blade sank into the ground. The sect premises exploded in blue light, engulphed in a shockwave of a billion sword slashes, cutting every building and severing every stone. The blue light faded, leaving nothing but debris behind.
The Zearthorn sect was no more.
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