A small, haphazardly built house stood near the border of the capital. The only thing inside the house was a small child wrapped in layers of restraints.
It had been roughly an hour since they arrived at their new plot of land. The debris was already gone. Marven took care of it in less than twenty minutes. One shouldn’t underestimate the size of his dimension ring nor the work speed of a platinum path cultivator.
Quite a few people ‘subtly’ snooped around to see what was happening. Gabrias was handed a treasure that could temporarily disguise his cultivation so that they could build the ruse of him being the sect master.
Marven thought that idea was plain stupid. The only reason he even played along was that he didn’t see an alternative. Marven didn’t want to be a sect master again.
He didn’t believe this ‘sect’ would be a true sect in the first place. It didn’t matter who played pretend as the sect master.
Their sect premises were a crappy little patch of land squeezed between several more prominent sects. Nobody in their right mind would join them. And for those not in their right mind, well…
Marven wasn’t going to turn them away. The more lunatics wanted to join, the better! The fewer people seeking an actual sect joined this farce, the happier Marven would be.
At the end of the day, he was just humoring Neave’s whims. Marven felt endless regret and guilt at what Neave had gone through. It was all his fault. He couldn’t even fathom the sheer terror of living through uncountable years of torment.
He would be overjoyed if building this shitty little sect was all it took to redeem himself.
Sadly, it would take more than that. It might take years of careful attention directed toward Neave to help him properly heal from his trauma. Marven would take it one step at a time.
Gabrias was a man in the know about construction, and Marven was a swift worker, even if it was absurd that a platinum path cultivator would be doing something as mundane as construction. With the guidance of Gabrias, he managed to construct a small sect hall with a couple of rooms. It was rudimentary and only as big as a large house.
It would do for now, however. Marven settled Neave and slowly unwrapped the restraints. Neave looked worse for wear than back when they arrived. That he hadn’t made any wisecracks was a rather severe symptom.
Marven placed a small bag from his dimension ring beside Neave on the floor. He pulled out an elixir and put it to Neave’s lips. The medicine would take a while to absorb into Neave’s body, and then it would take some time for the energy within the elixir to…
Marven watched in utter shock as he sensed the energy swirling within Neave’s body. Neave’s complexion improved significantly within seconds, and he opened his eyes.
“Yo, old man! You must have hooked me up with some awesome shit. What was that?”
Marven couldn’t believe his eyes. Neave got up, stretched a bit, and spread his arms open, a massive grin on his face until he froze and fell back-first to the floor..
“Ish okeh, ould mam!” Neave got up. “My spirit is fucked up, so it’s hard to get a good feel for reality. Got anything to help with that?”
Marven stared at Neave with open eyes. What was going on? Did he seriously absorb that elixir in seconds?
“How did you do that?” Marven asked.
“How’d I do what?” Neave asked back, but just as Marven was about to answer, he continued, “... Is what I would ask if I were an idiot. You gave me some sort of healing treasure, right? No wonder you’re confused. To answer your question, I have the absorb spirit power, pure blood, hyper liver, and my energy manipulation skills are lifetimes more advanced than yours.”
Marven gaped. Everything Neave said created more questions.
“You… You have three spirit powers!? No, wait, four!?”
“I have like… eight? Honestly, I’m not sure. Either way, old man, do you have the spirit-healing treasure? I am dying as we speak.”
Marven rushed to hand Neave a small bottle. It was a bottle containing seven small pills. Marven watched in pure terror as Neave opened his jaw like a snake and ate the entire bottle.
“Oh, hell yeah, this stuff is amazing! Anything else?” Neave looked at the bag Marven was pulling the treasures out of. He grabbed the entire bag, opened his mouth as wide as possible, and ate it whole. “Either way, old man, it’s time we get to business.”
“How… How!?” Marven was utterly bewildered at everything he’d seen so far.
Neave felt extreme impatience because he was tied up for days, so he rushed to explain everything he could. He explained that he could manipulate spirit and round up monster cores.
Marven felt like his heart was about to explode. Suddenly, he regretted cooperating with Neave’s crazy idea. He took a deep breath and was about to confront Neave.
“Neave, listen to me, that…”
“Is precious information that will put a massive target on my forehead. Wow, father, thank you for your grand cultivator insight!”
“It is more than that! If you’re capable of manipulating spirit in such a way you…” Marven thought back to what Neave had said his ambitions were—ones that seemed just a little less crazy now, “You can’t go around talking about this.”
Neave grinned and morphed into the slightly older-looking and much taller version of himself.
“Why do you think I wanted us to make this sect, father? Hypothetically speaking, if I were to give you, let's say, two hundred perfectly rounded cores, how powerful would you become?”
Marven paused at that. After thinking about it for a bit, he shook his head.
“The interference of the powers I’ve previously gained would still reflect on the new powers.”
“Oh shit, you’re right. I remember reading about that, damn.” Neave thought for a bit. “Can you bring that dog over here? Actually, wait, follow me. Let’s go see him right now.”
Neave ran out into the central area of the new sect headquarters and found Gabrias sitting in a corner by himself. Harel was in a different room altogether. Gabrias looked like he wanted to throw up when he spotted Neave.
“How’s my favorite henchman doing today!?”
“Do–Do we need to, hah, build? I can build! I’m ready to put my skills…”
“Relax, there is just a small experiment I’d like to conduct.”
“Experiment? No, I mean, why would you need me for that?”
“I said relax…” Neave lifted his finger, and a small tendril of life-force-coated liquid spirit flowed out toward Gabrias, “It’s less construction and more… Deconstruction.”
“No! Please, spare me!”
“Shhh, shhh, shh, just relax. It's just the tip. It will be over in a second!”
Marven watched in distress. He wanted to stop whatever Neave was doing. However, getting Neave to cooperate was a priority, and the short-term suffering of a man that tried to kill his son wasn’t worth compromising that cooperation over.
The tendril reached Gabrias and sank into his body. Moments later, he tensed up, but he didn’t scream.
“What, what are you doing to me?”
“Okay, here is how it's going to go! Either you relax your spirit and let me do this, or I do it forcefully. If I do it by force, there’s probably around eeeeh…” Neave contemplated, “A seventy percent chance you’ll die.”
Gabrias froze in terror. He whimpered a bit but decided that cooperating was better than dying.
“Alright…Do–Do what you want.”
Neave grinned. Moments later, Gabrias winced at a faint stinging sensation within his spirit. It only took around twenty seconds of probing, and it was over.
Gabrias opened his eyes wide in shock. “This… This shouldn’t be possible.”
Marven frowned, “Neave, what did you do to him.”
Neave cackled like a lunatic, “Yes! It fucking worked! I removed his spirit powers!”
Marven had seen quite a few shocking things in his life. Neave had shocked him in ten minutes more than every other surprising thing he had gone through in his life.
“Now, where was I? Oh, yes, perfectly rounded cores. Let’s say I remove your shitty spirit powers and give you many ridiculous ones. How many would it take to make you equal to a diamond path cultivator?”
The moon falling from the sky would have fewer consequences to this realm's fate than Neave’s power.
Gabrias was thoroughly confused as he listened to Neave speak, given that he had no idea what Neave was talking about.
“This is why I wanted to start a sect, father. I remember you once said that the life of a cultivator is anything they have the power to make it be. So what kind of life do we have the privilege of living now?”
Neave and Marven talked about the potential of Neave’s plan. This entire situation had gone way differently than Marven had thought it would. He was still struggling to cope with the change of pace. He cooperated with Neave’s plan of making a sect because he wanted to make things right.
Now it felt like he was on a timer. Marven subtly hinted at keeping a low profile, hoping Neave would believe that was his idea.
Neave didn’t bite.
As far as Marven understood it, Neave planned to conquer the entire capital, and he called that ‘stage one.’
A severe headache crept into Marven’s head at the mere thought of all the conflict Neave’s plans would cause. He couldn’t think of a way to get hold of this situation.
Marven feared that shooting too many of Neave’s plans down would make him run away. He was deathly afraid of the consequences of freeing Neave into the wild. At the very least, the power Marven could acquire would allow him to protect Neave.
Marven hated himself a little for how excited he felt. He desperately wanted to think of this situation through the mindset of a father, but it was apparent his identity as a cultivator was skewing his judgment. That was unavoidable. Neave wanted to give Marven something that anyone, even diamond rankers, would go crazy over.
He was only hoping that craze didn’t catch them before they had the power to defend themselves.
Harel was trying to meditate in one of the rooms.
Key word trying.
Harel vaguely heard the buzz outside. Neave was already up. It was shocking he could recover so quickly. But it wasn’t surprising.
She was deathly scared of Neave. There was something about him that no longer felt human. Marven was emotional and probably wasn’t thinking straight. To him, Neave was his son.
To Harel, Neave was an incomprehensible entity that had experienced an eternity of torment. Anyone who thought about it would realize the implications.
How did the time within that loop affect him mentally?
He had admitted to killing several people already. His eyes showed no regret or guilt as he retold the story.
Not remorse, not grief, not fear.
Perhaps it was her imagination going wild, but Harel could swear she saw a hint of glee.
What kind of person was he if he felt pride at slaughter? And how the hell was she supposed to sleep within a hundred-mile radius of him?
Just as she was thinking this, Neave suddenly appeared in the middle of the room.
“I agree, honestly. I’m super hot in this form!” Neave wiggled his eyebrows.
Harel took a second to calm herself down. Her heart was beating out of her chest. She was afraid that her reaction would insult him—and terrified of the consequences.
“So, Marven and I talked and decided to conquer the world!”
Harel couldn’t afford to be shocked at what he had just said, so she nodded.
“W–Wow. That s-s-seems like-a a uhm, in-incredible plan, yes, yeah! I’m thoroughly im-impressed.”
Neave burst out laughing.
“You’re stiffer than a day-old corpse Harel. Relax, I’m not going to eat you.”
Everything about the way he had phrased that sentence freaked Harel out.
“Here you go, Harel! I made these specifically for you!” Neave pulled several monster cores from his dimension ring and placed them before her.
Several perfectly round monster cores.
Harel couldn’t believe her eyes. She touched them and felt around, failing to believe they were real.
“What in the…?”
By the time she raised her head, Neave was already gone.
After the discussion, Neave and Marven decided to wait until tomorrow to do anything else. Neave felt exhausted. It was a type of exhaustion he could wipe away with heavy eating and a warm-up, but he didn’t want to.
He wanted to sleep.
Would he end up within that realm again if he went to sleep?
There was only one way to find out.
Neave appeared within the dark realm again. He felt the same as he had just as he was about to sleep. Which was to say that he felt as if he were rudely shaken awake.
“Alright, horrific monstrosities! I have arrived to put you in your place this time. Please line up neatly and prepare to be dispatched.“
He didn’t have a weapon, but a trusty old branch would have to do. Neave had already tested expending his life force and knew that had no real impact on him when he woke up.
Neave was very low on life force. Well, he was at several times higher capacity than should be possible for a cultivator of his rank. But this paled compared to the ocean of life force Neave built up while running through the woods. Before returning here, he would have to snack on a few abominids tomorrow.
Neave whirled as fast as he could, yet he was barely in time to block an attack. This time he got a good look at the thing that had killed him. It looked like one of the demons. Tentatively, at least.
Shriveled eyes, tentacles with mouths, spikes, and claws covered every inch of its body, from top to bottom.
Neave could barely see its body clearly because it could move ridiculously fast.
Neave blocked the few attacks he could before the branch shattered to bits. One of the toothy tentacles latched onto his hand, and it bit hard. Neave pulled back, letting the teeth tear his flesh off with little hesitation. It was at this moment that a second one of these creatures attacked. Neave blew fire at it, but that had no effect. He tried getting a true strike in, but he was impaled before he could react. He forcefully morphed his body to release himself from the spikes.
Neave used a movement technique to appear on top of the obsidian forest. Something latched onto his leg and pulled him into the thick of the obsidian growth. Before he could escape, the other two were already on top of him.
Neave was skewered, impaled, and chewed up.
Neave was woken up by Gabrias screaming. It didn’t seem like much time had passed since he fell asleep.
Neave got off the floor he was sleeping on and walked over to the screaming. Marven was holding Gabrias down as he thrashed and yelped.
What is this pathetic bastard doing?
Should I just put him out of his misery?
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