Neave hid in a forest not too far from Pavarrie. He had wanted to make as much distance from the town as possible but soon found the prospect of doing that hopeless.
His entire body and spirit ached from top to bottom. It felt like acid flowed through his veins. His spirit felt like an egg that a sledgehammer had hit, and his muscles twitched and cramped constantly.
At first, he thought his countless injuries and severe abuse of his body and spirit caused this. That was entirely correct, but he realized there was more to that.
For all his skill, knowledge, and many tricks, he was still just an eleven-year-old kid at the 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 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 sure 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 anything that could even 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 demon dryad core. That core would have been a fantastic 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 confident 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 like he had handled any 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. Its color gave him a clue. Neave ate some leaves to load up on life force, then concentrated all that life force into his hand.
Neave 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 tiny core that contained a feeble spirit power. Toxic blood.
“Ah fuck, I thought that would work.”
It could work. Theoretically. However, it didn't mean he would get that lucky just because it was convenient right now. 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 an excellent job preserving it so far. He grabbed a sword, carved out something vaguely resembling an organ, and ate it.
It made him feel a little better, but he felt it had worsened his situation 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 exterminating 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 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 number of monsters flooding the underground made caves a horrible place to step into. Neave knew this, but he had no choice. Unless he found a solution within the next several hours, he was screwed.
So he fought and killed monster after monster, spending hours trying to find a single helpful power.
Luck, however, simply wasn’t on his side. He felt the organ's effects wearing off but hadn’t found any promising monster cores yet. The additional strain of fighting all the monsters threatened Neave with serious consequences unless he improvised. Time was up.
He had to act now.
Neave quickly dug through his collection of monster cores, double-checking every single one to see if they fit his criteria. None did. Panic was starting to set in. His hand shook, 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 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 unlucky that this cave had no powerful monsters. His vision was blurring, and he wasn’t sure whether he could 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 would also result in severe consequences for his future power.
Yet, the more thought, the more confident he felt. This was the last option 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. 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 thought was:
This is a fucking brilliant idea!
It was objectively a stupid idea born of desperation in his moment of dire need. It was an 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 entirely 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.
After reading the book, he had already planned on doing something along these lines. He felt bitter at being forced to rush, given he had intended to optimize the powers first. Still, if these powers evolved in the right ways, he was sure his body would be much 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 was a unique variant. And purifying bone marrow had come from a poison variant abominid.
None of the creatures were powerful, even if the gem golem was relatively rare. Luckily it wasn’t a crystal golem since that would have spelled Neave’s death.
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 delicate wine glass from Kamella’s ring. He didn’t have any other containers to dilute 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 dealing 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, he had to evolve them.
He evolved fire lungs once and acquired the ability to breathe fire. He didn’t expect that for some reason, but that 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. However, its ability to breathe fire wasn’t as pleasant of an addition to the spirit trial. He had to evolve fast liver four times to cover the entire damn liver.
Holy balls had his liver become intense! It didn’t just become faster; it acquired rapid regeneration too. Did livers naturally possess some sort of regeneration ability? Not only that, but his liver's sheer power was so absurd he wondered 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? Likely not much more than making his veins much more durable. It did introduce a giant golem into the spirit trial, however. Excellent. It was already a formidable opponent, but its additional mass made it a challenge on par with the mega-abominid.
Neave had noticed that his body would start falling apart whenever he used heavy true strikes in the spirit trial. This made sense since his ‘body’ within the spirit realm embodied his spirit. What made for a much more pleasant discovery, however, was that he could fix his body in the spirit trial by doing the same thing he did when he fixed his spirit outside.
It worked much 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 spirit. Still, it made the spirit trial even easier for him, which was a tremendous bonus.
As for rubber bones, a similar thing had happened, but less drastic. The power evolved not just to cover all of his bones but also added additional elasticity to his joints and some muscle tissue 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 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 slightly less gigantic abominid, a small abominid with many venomous stingers on its body, a giant 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 anyone was left chasing after him, but he did not want to risk finding out in his current state. His body was still not doing 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 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 movement techniques until his spirit recovered. He also kept a minuscule trickle of life force flowing into his spirit at all times.
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 graft it to his left shoulder.
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