Harel was confident that platinum-rank cultivators didn’t need even an hour of sleep daily.
She was only on the silver path and needed less than four hours.
Marven slept for over twelve hours a day.
It had been nearly a week since they started their ‘journey.’ In reality, the very moment they reached the first settlement, the journey had practically ended. They were staying at an inn. The innkeeper was charging them insane prices, mainly because their, or rather, Marven's presence, had chased all the other patrons away.
Harel didn’t understand prices since she never really dealt with money. According to Marven, he was being charged three times over what it would cost to fill the entire inn. But he was so obscenely wealthy that that was still chump change for him.
People were frightened of Marven. If not for the fact that he had annihilated his sect, then for his utterly horrid physical appearance.
Even though he slept for over twelve hours a day, he constantly looked like he hadn’t slept a wink. Marven had eyebags practically reaching his lips, his hair was greasy and matted, while both his breath and just he in general stank from several rooms away.
Harel had to listen to him cry all day for the first few days of their stay here. On one such occasion, he ran out of the room, panicked, and knelt before her.
“Why did… Why did I do it!? What…” He grabbed his heart in anguish, “What would have Kashimir…? What went through their heads in those moments? I killed them. In cold blood, I killed them, my children. I am… What am I? Some sort of monster? Why would I do that?” He then smacked his head on the floor so hard the floorboards cracked. “I… I am unredeemable. They were the way they were because of me. It was my fault. Who the hell did I think I was to judge them like that!?” Then he got up off the floor. “I have to find them. I have to find the rest of them and beg for their forgiveness. They can take my head if they want, but I am determined to make things right.” Marven dramatically marched out of the inn.
Harel hadn’t even moved the entire time, nor had she chased after him.
Marven returned half an hour later, carrying several bottles of hard liquor. Then he crashed on his bed and fell asleep. Again.
Something like this happened several times throughout the first few days. Honestly, Harel wished that hadn’t changed. Now she was woken up in the middle of the night by moaning. And soon after that, five scantily dressed women rushed out of Marven’s room, and he angrily chased them out.
“Get out of my room, you whores! You will never replace what I had!” Then he cried. Again.
Harel did want to help, be there for him, or do anything, but what was she supposed to do? She was a thirteen-year-old kid. What little life experience Harel had was almost entirely spent holding a sword. What could she do for a several hundred-year-old man struggling with grief and guilt?
Nothing. She couldn’t do anything at all.
Harel still felt indebted to Marven for everything he’d done for her, so she didn’t want to leave him. But her training had to continue, one way or another. At first, she just practiced her swordsmanship in her room, trying to visualize the movements she saw Neave execute.
She could remember the movements, sure, but recreate them?
Everything from how he adjusted his posture, to the edge alignment, to the sword's trajectory, to the unreasonable amount of force and speed the strikes were capable of demonstrating. All of it felt like it was a lifetime of practice away for her.
Let alone doing all that while standing on the points of glass shards. Harel couldn’t even comprehend how long it would take someone to acquire such mastery.
Merely visualizing those movements was good enough for her. Remembering the feeling they gave off was enough to help with her progress. She quickly exhausted this source of inspiration, however. The room was pretty damn cramped anyway.
Harel then decided that taking a stroll around this town could help her find at least a solid location for training. There was an open-arena training ground, but she was drastically overqualified. Challenging iron path cultivators and kicking their asses wasn’t a great source of improvement.
Although it did help her take the edge off a bit.
Eventually, she decided that leaving the town was the better option. This proved to, indeed, be a good source of improvement.
One improved fast when fighting for their life, after all.
The woods within any sect's area of influence were kept meticulously clean and empty of monsters. The Zearthorn sect’s area of influence wouldn’t become dangerous for another few months at least.
However, there were plenty of caves loaded with monsters to go around.
Harel had faced gigantic bats, massive centipedes, giant slimes, nasty abominds, and these were the things that weren’t a threat. Then she encountered a giant rock golem.
They were technically a silver-rank threat, so it should have been appropriate for her level of advancement. Who could have known that a low-quality sword was a poor weapon of choice for a giant creature made of stone?
She was doing great at first. Until her sword snapped like a twig; then, she was unarmed and surrounded by too many enemies to count. Those were still minor issues.
The more significant issue was the blade golem that had just appeared. A high gold rank threat. A steel golem with countless sharp limbs and protrusions.
She moved as fast as she possibly could. Usually, a golem’s greatest weakness was its lack of speed, but a high gold rank threat could still run her down with little issue.
Even if it was too slow to reach her, a blade golem wasn’t dangerous due to its speed. It kept firing sharp steel shards at her as she desperately dodged and weaved around them. She was pretty sensitive to sword qi, so she could feel the blades coming, but even then, she was barely fast enough to avoid getting shredded to pieces. Very quickly, cuts of all sizes started appearing all over her body. She was bleeding out, and there was no way she could reach the cave entrance on time.
A gust of wind blew by her. The blade golem was shredded to pieces.
Marven stood behind her, holding a large sword in his hands. Then he sighed.
“Was I so pathetic you’d rather kill yourself in a monster-infested cave than tolerate my behavior?”
“No, I just–”
“It’s alright. I do not blame you. You are a child, Harel. Yet another person who was my responsibility…”
“... And yet another person I’ve failed.”
Harel gritted her teeth. She wasn’t going to listen to this crap anymore.
“Please just shut up already.”
Marven frowned and turned around, shock clear on his face. Harel continued talking as she walked towards him, robes bloody. Her eyes were sharp, and so was her tongue.
“Yes, I agree. You were a terrible sect master. And I agree that the sect was your responsibility. So!? What!?” Harel threw her hands out. “SO!? WHAT!? Is your plan now to just mope around endlessly!? What will it be next, thirty women? Or will you start doing drugs as well when the alcohol stops being enough?”
Marven looked about to get angry, but Harel interrupted him.
“No, no, no… NO! I’m not done yet! My life experience may not measure up to a twentieth of your own, but I’ve had plenty of time to learn one important thing. Whenever I say, ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘I suck at swordsmanship,’ I feel a small pang of satisfaction and relief. Good! I suck at the sword, so I don’t need to try! Trying is hard. Being more is HARD! I’d rather be told that I have no potential whatsoever because when I’m told that I do, that means I HAVE TO FREAKING LIVE UP TO IT!” She reached Marven and pointed her finger at his face. She was a little taller than he was. “You want to know why your sect never improved but only worsened? Do you want to know why you haven’t made a single step of progress in your cultivation for hundreds of years? Because you’ve told yourself it's impossible. I get that you’re sad, and I understand that you had to grieve.” Harel turned around and started walking away. “But I don’t want to be tied to a sinking stone.” Then she paused. “So choose, Marv. What are you going to do?”
Neave stood at the place he usually restarted the loop. But there was no demon. The sky no longer had a red glow to it. Everything was dark. He strolled around the place he had called home for so many years. All the liquid had either dried up or turned entirely black. No more creeks or rivers flowed down the valleys. Thick obsidian growth covered almost everything.
Ģē ƜƜƜ Ƨҿҿҿҿҿҿҿҿҿ….
Neave didn’t think much.
He just followed the noise. The obsidian growth slowed down his progress, but he took his time.
“I am coming. Please be patient.”
Neave painstakingly made his way through the endless obsidian shrubbery. Then he reached the entrance of a cave. Obsidian growth was so thick within the cave that Neave had to use true strikes to break through and keep moving.
Moving through the dark, empty, cold cave.
The hidden wall had already collapsed long, long ago.
He punched through it, after all.
He walked inside. There were no more statues.
They had already moved on.
So Neave walked around the room. It was almost the same as he remembered it. A little dustier, perhaps. Then he turned towards the void in the corner. Neave stepped closer, feeling an intense ache in the back of his head. He stretched his arm out, and it sank into nothingness.
Then he touched something cold. Where there had been nothing, it appeared.
Neave’s arm touched his own rotting corpse, which promptly opened its eyes. It lifted its head with crackles and pops and looked over to Neave. Then it spoke.
“Oh hey, man.”
The corpse got up with more crackles and pops until it got seated. It spoke again.
“Man, what is up with you?”
“What do you mean?” Neave responded.
“You know what I fucking mean! You’ve become a complete coward since you finished the seventh wave!”
“Uhm, excuse me? By exactly what parameters?”
“You’ve gone catatonic again.”
“... I obviously fucking haven’t.”
“Pfff, yeah, right. You can call it whatever you want, but it's the same thing.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I thought we have scraped off the liar already.”
Neave paused at that.
“I am not lying, but I seriously do not get what you’re–”
“You are afraid of death. You cower like a worm. You do not understand, Neave. It is exactly your catatonia that will lead you to your end. You are not free. Freedom belongs only to the dead. The eighth wave has begun Neave. And there are a lot of demons to slay.”
“But I am free. I have left. I HAVE ESCAPED! AND WHO ARE YOU TO TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME!?”
The corpse grabbed Neave’s neck and strangled him. It yelled at him in a desperate, pleading tone.
“THEY ARE COMING FOR YOU, NEAVE! YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND! THIS IS THE GIMMICK OF THE EIGHTH WAVE! YOU ONLY GET ONE ATTEMPT!”
“SHUT UP. JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
“HURRY, NEAVE! YOU MUST POLISH YOUR CHAINS OR YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!”
Neave woke up.
Neave was covered in sweat, and he stank like crap. It had been days since he had acquired his spirit power. A few very eventful days.
In the book, he had read about 'absorb' and powers like it. Cultivators avoided them like the plague. Which was completely justified. People pooped for a reason. Not everything from the food eaten was meant to enter the bloodstream.
After Neave had regained his life force, he learned this lesson the hard way. He had to spend half his life force again to keep his heart, kidneys, and liver from exploding. Whatever was in those bugs probably wasn’t all supposed to enter the human body.
Certainly not in the amount he consumed. He’d been sweating green mucus and pissing thick brown piss that smelled worse than anything he had ever smelt in his life. Not even the pus lakes from the loop could compare. Adding insult to injury, he later realized he could have eaten living plants instead of living bugs. On a side note, grass was surprisingly nutritious when one could digest it.
He was actively avoiding thinking about the dream. It made him feel uneasy. He left the bed and looked at his body in the mirror again.
“Now we’re talking.” While Neave finally stopped resembling an undead monster, his physique was still rather unimpressive. His arm was still gone, too. He had a few ideas for how he wanted to fix that, but all of them involved making decisions that would permanently impact his future. So he would remain patient for now.
He felt alright now, relatively speaking. And he had tentatively fixed his life force problems. So what was he going to do next?
He frowned as he remembered the words of the corpse from the dream. Neave frowned harder as he sensed a silver path spirit approaching the mansion with his spiritual perception. Immediately, his mind whirled with paranoia.
Is someone coming to kill me?
He thought twice about that. Why was that his first thought? He had been here for nearly a week, and the only person that had even approached him had come to thank him. He may have been wrong about the nature of other people. Being wrong was a normal thing in life. After all, the most outstanding scholars would much rather be wrong and learn something new than always be right and never learn anything.
Then he sensed the second silver path spirit on the other side of the mansion. And the third one. And the fourth, fifth, sixth, and…
“Yeah. I’m sure they got the wrong address.”
The wall in front of him exploded. Neave jumped back and ran further into the mansion, sensing the intruders moving along the estate, a few climbing onto the roof. He didn’t panic, however. There was no need to panic. Because he no longer had life force issues.
And he could finally demonstrate the true power of the immortal arts.
As long as he kept the intruders separated, he could take them on individually.
Neave stopped dead… And so did all the people chasing him.
Did they know where he was? His spirit was hidden by life force. There should be no way for them to sense his location. Something was strange. That was contemplation for another time.
Neave grinned and grabbed a sword out of the dimension ring. This was no puny shortsword. He pulled out a two-handed greatsword and cackled as he prepared a true strike. One of the invaders broke through the roof and into the attic, preparing a technique to break into the hallway Neave was in.
Neave took a stance. Golden runes enveloped his entire body. The sword screamed furiously as it slowly traveled through the air in a stabbing motion.
The walls around Neave collapsed, and the flying strike from his sword obliterated the ceiling above him. Wood exploded in a shower of debris, and the man standing above Neave clutched his leg as it bled profusely. He wore a white cloak, face hidden behind a black mask.
Neave quickly repaired his spirit and took another stance. He swung the greatsword with all his might, trying to bisect the man as he fell towards him. The sword landed with a cling, striking the man’s back.
However, even though he had struck the man directly, he couldn’t bisect him. The man flew away, hitting a wall and bouncing off. He fumbled, putting a hand on his bleeding back and readjusting himself to face Neave.
Neave clicked his tongue and repaired his spirit again. This man must possess some sort of defensive spirit power.
The man screamed something unintelligible and rushed at Neave. Neave couldn’t take this fight haphazardly. This man was a cultivator on the second step of the silver path, and he was far from the only opponent Neave was facing. It was true that he didn’t need to be that careful with his life force anymore, but if he got too low, he would still be in trouble. These people also seemed to have a way of perceiving his location.
So Neave just turned around and ran. He sprinted and used a movement technique to get through the wall and escape outside. Not even seconds later, they were hot on his trail.
How the hell are they tracking me like this?
Neave ran into the town, using movement technique after movement technique. He was rapidly exhausting his qi as he dodged between the different buildings. He had already put some distance between himself and his pursuers. Even without looking back, he could sense them clambering over the buildings and chasing after him.
He was nearly completely out of qi when he reached the wall. He pulled out a qi restoration pill from Kamella’s ring, one of his last few, and used a movement technique to get to the other side of the wall. Then he used the long-range, high-speed technique and bolted into the forest.
“What in the world is he?” Gabrias stood on the wall of Pavarrie, looking down over the town.
His spirit power kept track of Neave as he dodged and weaved between buildings. He couldn’t believe it when he felt him magically appear on the other side of the town wall. He looked down at the hooded figure next to him and spoke.
“Tell your men to gather and regroup. He’s made it out of the town. We are going to have to go after him.”
The hooded figure nodded and lowered its head a bit. Then all the cultivators in the town stopped chasing after Neave and ran toward their position. The hooded figure then spoke up.
“Are you sure he is not even on the iron path?”
“Yes.” Gabrias responded and frowned.
“Then we absolutely must catch him before he advances his cultivation.”
The eighth wave has begun.
Neave had nearly finished running through the entire clearing, but then he paused. Those words kept echoing through his mind, again and again, and again...
He would have taken it immediately if he ever had the opportunity to strategically retreat when fighting the demons.
So why was he hesitating now?
Why didn't he just run away?
Yes, as he ran, his steps slowed.
His heart pounded out of his chest. Every bit of his mind and body screamed at him to run the hell away and not look back. Why take the risk? There were over half a dozen silver path cultivators on his tail.
But what if they hunted him down?
Well, he could get more powerful in the meantime.
What if they bring backup? What if they come with someone on the golden path?
The eighth wave has begun.
Why are you being a coward? You can not escape. There is nowhere you can hide. There is nowhere you should hide. Enemies are everywhere around you, Neave… After all...
The eighth wave has begun.
Neave turned around.
And ran back toward the town.
Support "The Jester of Apocalypse [BOOK 2 FINISHED]"
Bio: Man do I love recursion. Man do I love recursion. Man do I love recursion. Man do I love...