Deep underground, in the vicinity of the Zearthorn sect, footsteps echoed through the vast caverns. The intense crashing could hardly be recognized as footsteps, however.
The thing that walked looked like a beautiful woman.
Although, even from afar, it was clear that this wasn’t some random lady taking a stroll through the monster-infested depths. Her skin was of pure gold, her clothes were woven of silver, platinum, and bronze, and her entire body was ornate with precious crystals.
Her eyes were fashioned out of pure diamond, and her hair was shaped with threads of precious red metal. A calm smile hung on her lips.
These details, however, could be partially obscured by the darkness. However, the fact that she was over four meters tall was significantly harder to hide.
It was rare for creatures that dwelled as deep as her to make their way toward the surface. After all, the surface was far too barren.
Not to mention there were barely any precious metals.
However, just a while back, she caught a whiff of something…
Could it be?
Is there more to the surface than trees, rocks, and dirt?
She was excited to find out.
Harel lay on the ground face first, practically kissing the soil as she prostrated before the emperor.
The emperor!? What is the emperor doing here!?
“Greetings, Marven. It has been a long time since we’ve last spoken.”
“So.” The emperor turned in the direction of the sect, sighed, and turned back to Marven, “I would like to hear what happened here.”
Marven frowned, but he relented and told the story. He retold how Neave found the book and everything that happened afterward. The emperor noticed Marven dodging the explanation of why he destroyed the sect. That wasn’t the biggest problem, however.
“Oh, heavens, so the report was true? Your child defeated an elder eight steps above him in power?”
“Hmmm… Honestly, I have a solid reason to suspect it was nine.”
The emperor’s eyes widened.
“The foundation realm!? An eleven-year-old child in the foundation realm defeated a cultivator on the third step of the silver path. Are you sure that was the case!?”
“I have been a sect master for hundreds of years. I have seen several hundred thousand disciples train and grow. Even though Neave had hidden his cultivation, I can still tell the difference in physical ability. He was certainly in the foundation realm.”
The emperor pinched his nose bridge and asked Marven another question.
“Why did you destroy the sect?”
Marven winced and tried staying silent, but given that the emperor wasn’t dropping the subject, he responded.
“As far as I know, I was perfectly within my right to do so. Unless the empire has changed its policy on interference with sect business?”
“I can still ask you as a person, Marven.”
Marven looked down, a hint of bitterness and sadness sneaking into his expression. The emperor continued.
“The empire doesn’t get involved in the sects’ business for as long as it doesn’t directly involve civilian lives. While this is one such case, remember that your actions have left several nearby settlements barren of protection. You will be sanctioned for that.”
“Very well then.” The emperor turned to leave but then turned to Marven one last time. “I still remember what you said to me back then. And I hope you do as well.” Then he vanished.
Harel was certain she was about to have a heart attack.
“W-W-W-Wh-What did he m-mean by san-sanction?”
“Nothing can defeat your curiosity, can it? It’s nothing much. If I ever make a sect again, the empire will alert anyone who wishes to live or do business under my protection of what I did here last night.”
“R-really? That’s… That’s it?” She was already calming down, so she got up and took a few deep breaths.
“The empire only cares about the citizens at the end of the day. Or at least that’s what they say.” Marven laughed wearily. “Come now. It is time for us to leave.”
Neave chuckled like some sort of greedy imp. He held dozens of shiny monster cores, some even a few inches across in size. There was something unusual about monster cores that made them so… Hoardable. Shiny, pretty rocks that held ominous powers within.
What was there not to love?
He stored these with all the monster cores in his dimension ring and sat down on a high orc's corpse. Everywhere around him, dozens of orcs lay bloody and dead on the ground. He had killed the entire band of orcs he’d encountered and then tracked down their camp to finish the rest.
He sighed yet again, this time in exasperation. These creatures were weak. They weren’t by any reasonable standards, but to Neave, these orcs were utterly dull opponents. True, they were physically probably tens or hundreds of times stronger than he was, and yes, they were sort of tough.
But they weren’t a challenge. These were dumb beasts shaped like fat, ugly, grayish-green muscular men.
Orcs were a bronze-rank threat on average. In a band like this, they’d usually be handled by several silver-rank cultivators. They fought by surrounding and overwhelming their opponents with unrelenting titanic blows.
They had long range, courtesy of their massive size, and were quite thick-skinned. They weren’t as stupid as trolls or goblins and could produce passable weapons. This was a relatively new tribe, so they hadn't made any iron weaponry yet.
However, to Neave, none of this mattered because these orcs were simply too slow to touch him.
A well-placed true strike to a vital artery was all it took to finish them. Neave couldn’t fix his spirit with his life force, but if he used weaker true strikes and gave his spirit a few seconds to recover, he could still use them ad infinitum.
They did have a high orc among them, but all that amounted to was a slightly more prominent target for Neave. He looked through his collection of shiny cores and inspected them individually.
Monster cores almost always contained spirit powers. Sure, the overwhelming majority of them were utter crap, but some of that utter crap could evolve into a good power.
This was usually a terrible thing to bet on, however. If a power was insufficient, it was best to look for one that would be good from the start.
If you melted one of these bad boys in your blood, you could drink that blood and initiate a spirit trial. Spirit trials were a foreign thing to Neave. All he understood about them was that they were some form of a fight for control in one’s spirit realm.
He’d read roughly twenty texts discussing the theory behind spirit powers, but he still couldn’t be sure exactly what they were. The problem with blindly dumping random books into a library was that you ended up with far too many texts that blatantly contradicted one another.
A few things were certain, however. It was easy to die during the trials, and the more powers you had, the more difficult the trials became.
Nevertheless, he wasn’t planning on taking any of the spirit powers inside these stones.
Neave wasn’t particularly interested in making very specific bones harder or a particular patch of skin tougher, having a more muscular biceps (singular), or having a bigger penis. That was a blatant lie. He was interested in the last one.
And also quite confident he could sell it for excellent coin.
As for how he knew what powers were held within, that was relatively easy. Anyone in the foundation realm or above could easily sense a core's power.
The powers within monster cores were a remnant shard of the monster's while it was alive. These shards frequently held fractured and relatively useless powers. And monster cores containing intact singular powers, like increased strength or something that affected all of one’s bones or skin, could be expensive.
There was always the option of evolving a fractured power. The process was relatively simple, too, feed qi or life force into the power, and it would evolve. It wasn’t just simple. It was even easy to do. The problem was that it initiated yet another spirit trial. Not dying then was the difficult part.
Neave finished checking the powers and sighed for a third time. There were some useful ones but nothing he cared for as of yet. His current target was a spirit power that could fix his life force problem.
The issue with having a target like that was that it was an overwhelmingly tall demand. Perhaps some of the powers he found could evolve into something that could help, but that was a gamble he would have to stake his life on.
For now, he would go to Pavarrie, and hopefully, he could find more information there. Or maybe even buy what he needed, although he was sure that would only be possible in a larger settlement.
And, also, brutally expensive.
He remembered his current looks. Everything about him was suspicious. He might as well walk into the town with a sign that said ‘baby eater’ stuck to his forehead. If he walked into the town looking like this, it was almost inevitable someone would try hunting him down.
Wasn’t that a good thing?
But he wondered. It would depend on who it was that was hunting him down.
No, it wouldn’t.
…Sure, even if he looked suspicious, this wouldn’t give anybody a solid reason to hunt him down. Those who wanted to know more about who he was would seek information, or perhaps they would seek a conversation with him.
After all, wouldn’t it be somewhat rash to immediately assume he was a villain based on his looks?
He would only be hunted by those who sought to destroy.
If destroyers wished to come, they had an open invitation.
The Emperor was a busy man. He only had the time to set aside for severe issues and things that impacted the Empire at large. He currently flew above the wilderness and looked for a boy.
The destruction of a relatively minor sect like the Zearthorn sect was barely within the realm of issues he dealt with personally. But the boy…
He instantly became his absolute priority above all else.
Someone capable of defeating those nine steps above him was quintessential for the survival of the empire. Not just the Empire but the entire realm. Few were privy to the horrifying reality of how bad the monster apocalypse truly was.
The surface rarely encountered real threats. Jeevian was among very few of those that had reached the diamond path of cultivation. There were merely thousands of such cultivators scattered around the realm.
Yet, there was a damn-near-immeasurable number of monsters. Keeping the surface of a single continent clean was straightforward, but what about hidden mystic realms? What about the depths of the ocean? What about the vast underground?
What about the continent that had been completely and utterly annihilated by the monster apocalypse?
How long until creatures from such places started pouring into the Xinkummar continent?
Monsters did not die from old age, yet, they grew and evolved without limits. The only thing that kept them from finishing off the entire realm was time.
Those fools from the Langen continent believed that walling themselves off would save them. The gods should at least know better than that.
Nothing could save them. Even for them, it was only a matter of time before they got run over by monsters.
There was a reason why he needed to find this boy above all else. It was so he could nurture and help him become a weapon he could leverage against the monster apocalypse. Even if the child wasn’t some incredibly talented cultivator, it was evident that the book held an important secret. Such a secret may just be the key to fighting back.
The Emperor couldn’t believe that idiot Marve let him escape. One of the most valuable people Jeevian had ever heard of was allowed to run severely injured through the damn wilderness.
Jeevian had been searching for hours, but it was clear that the boy had already left the vicinity of the Zearthorn sect. Jeevian pinched the bridge of his nose bridge in displeasure. He would have to send others to look for him if he lost the boy.
He couldn’t tell anyone except those he trusted the most. If the information that Jeevian was looking for him ended up in the wrong hands, that would only ensure he died.
Just as he was tapping his forehead, trying to come up with a solution for this problem, he felt it.
“Dear heavens above, no!”
Something was crawling out of the depths nearby. He took a deep breath. Jeevian hurried to at least try stopping it. If what his spirit senses were telling him was correct…
He flew into a cave and descended into the underground.
Something else was coming.
It smelled appetizing. It wasn’t what she was looking for, but she felt like having a small snack.
She was contemplating hurrying to chase it, but it was clear that it was approaching her. So she waited. And then she saw it. She cocked her head. It was like a golem of meat. Was it an evolved flesh golem? It reminded her of her looks, but it looked soft and small.
The tiny creature pulled a massive sword out of nowhere and flew toward her.
Was it trying to attack her? It made no sense. Creatures far more powerful ran from her on sight. She raised her hand to block its weapon.
One of her fingers suffered a tiny cut of damage.
Jeevian was a composed man even when things got ugly.
Now, he was panicking. He had used his most potent qi technique, and the entire damn cave collapsed around him. The creature didn’t even suffer any damage. It was time to get desperate.
Her… Her finger was damaged. She had suffered damage from an attack.
That was impossible. This weak little creature managed to hurt her? That was… That was unheard of. This thing that wasn’t even worthy of being called a snack dared to strike at her?
She glowed bright-hot as a whirlwind of intense plasma surrounded her. She lifted her hand to turn the entire vicinity into a lake of lava.
Her enemy struck again. This time its sword burned bright red, and something that looked like a transparent winged lizard appeared behind it. Then the creature thrust its sword, impaling her straight through her head.
Jeevian had sacrificed half his life force to trigger the dragon’s descent on this creature. The strike's aftermath seriously threatened to bury him underground. His sword was stuck in the golem’s head.
Yet it still moved, shakily gripping the sword. Its metallic fingers screeched as it bent the priceless blade like scrap metal. The emperor went wide-eyed and tried his best to make some distance from the creature. The aftermath of the spirit power he had used impeded his movement.
Then it moved. It didn’t move too quickly, but he couldn’t move at full speed. The Emperor had to resort to blocking the strike instead.
His forearms were utterly shattered by the impact and the punch connected with his chest. He flew away from the golem at such speeds that once he struck the cave wall, he sank hundreds of meters into the stone.
Jeevian coughed blood, and another one of his spirit powers was triggered. His wounds rapidly recovered from the blow, but not even his spirit power could fully restore the damage the strike had caused.
It was clear that he wasn't winning this fight. He used another spirit power, and white mist surrounded his body. Then he disappeared.
Did it die?
No. She hadn’t felt any substance enter her core. It must still be alive.
But it disappeared. Her senses were telling her that it was somehow gone. Where did it go? Was it hiding?
She was furious. It dared. It dared violate her beautiful face. She shook. This was an unforgivable sin. So she lifted her arm again. On the top of her palm, black lightning gathered. It screamed so loudly that the noise tore the nearby stone apart. She pointed toward the direction of the creature.
A black beam fired out of her palm. The stone in the surrounding area darkened and turned to dust. The entire side of the cavern she struck exploded in a massive cloud of smoke. The pressure the smoke caused was so great that the cavern she was in and several others nearby immediately started collapsing.
She would be buried for a while beneath the rubble, but it was worth it if she could exterminate that pest.
Then she looked at the sword buried in her head. It was made of strange green metal that felt wonderful to touch. Could she have made a mistake? Was this a gift from the creature? It mattered not. All would eventually be her possession.
And all that lived would die by her hands.
Jeevian had used a spirit power to turn invisible. He felt a terrible sense of foreboding as he ran past the golem and out of the cave. Black smoke traveled at immense speed and struck his back. He was launched out of the cave and flew through the forest, smashing into trees and breaking them like dry twigs.
The entire world rose. The cave spewed black smoke out at ever-increasing pressure, but it wasn’t enough to release the stress within the cave. He shakily got up and ran for his life.
The landscape around him exploded like a black volcano of death, raining darkened soil and stone, burying the forest beneath.
The surface of Jeevian’s entire body was charred. He felt his skin peeling away. His spirit power kicked in again, and he healed much of the damage he received. Yet, some splotches of black remained.
He crawled out of layers of withered soil and ran. He hoped the creature would give up on going up to the surface, but that was unlikely. It was time to gather everyone.
A myth golem of unprecedented power had left the underground.
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Bio: Man do I love recursion. Man do I love recursion. Man do I love recursion. Man do I love...