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Marven tried calming Gabrias, but it was no use. Almost too late, he spotted Neave preparing to lunge at Gabrias. Marven barely stopped Neave from killing Gabrias by grabbing his arm.

“Neave, what the fuck are you doing!”

Neave paused.

“Huh, good question. He was kind of loud, so I just thought I’d put him out of his misery. Oh well. What’s going on, old man?”

Marven was bewildered by Neave’s behavior, but the current situation was more urgent.

“I have no idea. He suddenly started screaming and thrashing, but if my spirit senses are correct, something akin to a spirit trial is happening.”

It was then that Gabrias opened his eyes and looked around in shock.

“Holy heavens, I’m alive!” He spluttered as he struggled to breathe. He froze once he spotted Neave, but not even that was enough to stop the shaking.

Marven waited for him to calm down and asked, “What happened to you?”

“I… I was stuck in a sp–spirit trial. But it wasn’t a regular spirit trial, it–it felt different. The creature I had encountered in my spirit trial before was still there, but it was deformed, bestial. I barely managed to defeat it and–and I felt its essence wither away.”

“Oh!” Neave exclaimed, “That makes sense! It’s probably a side-effect of removing the spirit power. Hold still for a second.” Neave lifted his finger, and Gabrias reacted as if trying to dodge an arrow, “I said stay still, Gabrias. I won’t ask a third time.” Gabrias watched the tendril approach with terror.

The tendril seeped into his body, but surprisingly enough, it made Gabrias feel better this time.

“You’ve suffered some damage. A part of the foreign spirit remained. I’m assuming it tried to take your spirit over from the inside. Well, it should be fine now.”

Neave pulled the life force tendril out and started stripping. Marven and Gabrias watched in confusion. He revealed the body underneath as he pulled the ragged, dirty clothes off. Neave was incredibly muscular. His muscles weren’t huge, but they were chiseled, and he didn’t have almost any fat anywhere on his body. It looked jarring on what was otherwise a small child, almost giving the impression of a shrunken adult man.

Neave’s body began morphing into the tall young master.

“Father, do you have any fine cultivator robes my size in that dimension ring of yours?”

Marven nodded and pulled out a set of incredibly expensive-looking clothes. It was a set of extremely smooth, white robes. They were lined with intricate red string and fit perfectly with Neave’s hair.

“Okay, you all do whatever you want, and I’m off to get some things done!”

Before Marven could speak up, Neave had already disappeared through the wall. So he did the only rational thing he could think of.

He followed him.

***

Neave didn’t even sleep for an hour, but he wasn’t planning on going to bed again. He was salty. Those creatures inside had declared war on him. It was a completely unfair fight, which, to be fair, was how the demons always fought, even back in the original loop.

Neave felt angry at himself for doing so poorly. He could momentarily assuage his poor performance by building up his life force. However, he felt that was too cheap a trick to pull. He needed more.

For now, he wanted to explore and get a sense of his surroundings.

It was nighttime outside. For cultivators, the night was little more than just the other half of the day. From bronze onward, cultivators slept less than five hours at a time. This didn’t necessarily mean five hours daily or having a regular sleep schedule. While this didn’t strictly apply to the younger generations of sub-bronze cultivators, they sure loved imitating their elders.

The capital's streets were just as bustling at night as during the day.

The building of their new, still unnamed sect was small. The space they had for construction was minuscule. Sects were hungry for space. Martial artists hated cramped environments, and this wasn’t without reason. The courtyard of the Zearthorn sect was around two square kilometers, over twenty times larger than all the space they had for their new sect. That was still too small.

Practicing forms, running, or working on certain moves all required space. The presence of other people was distracting, let alone having them get in your way. A proper sect had to have at least five hundred members to even be called a sect in the first place. Less than a tenth of a square kilometer just wasn’t enough.

The plot of land they bought was walled off from all sides. They were cramped between three other sects, creating a misshapen triangle. This further complicated the utility of their land.

Neave ran out into the streets and walked for a bit. He encountered people of all shapes and sizes. The first thing Neave did was enter a weapon shop.

It was a tiny shop that sold used and predominantly mortal weaponry. Neave didn’t care if they sold metal sticks. He asked whether they did, in fact, sell metal pipes or anything of the sort. He was directed to another vendor that dealt with construction materials. Neave bought a sturdy metal pipe.

He walked outside and dropped it on the ground. Several people jumped a bit at the loud sound. Neave laughed.

“Whoops, I dropped my metal pipe. Got to be careful!”

Well, now, it was time to visit their new neighbors!

Neave had the plan to overwhelm and conquer the entirety of the capital! Naturally, a show of force was the logical first step. People needed to know that their new little sect was not to be trifled with. Otherwise, they’d get endlessly bullied by the neighboring powers.

Neave walked down the street and approached the entrance to the neighboring sect. Then he phased through it and appeared in their courtyard.

Nobody was around, so he just walked into the halls of their sect. Eventually, he ran across an elder that stopped him and questioned him.

“You there! What the hell are you doing here!? Intruder! There is an intruder in the sect!”

People gathered. All of the cultivators within this sect wore pitch-black robes.

“Oh, I apologize, esteemed elder.” Neave responded in a perfect, masculine yet youthful voice and bowed hand over fist with spotless etiquette. “My name is Deeze. I am the young master of your neighboring sect.”

“What is your sect’s name!?”

Neave’s face contorted as he desperately held himself back.

“I… Apologize, esteemed pfff–” Neave snorted and schooled his expression. “I am sorry, I seemed to have sneezed. How rude of me. Our sect does not yet have a name, as it had been founded today.”

“What sort of nonsense are you spouting, child!? What the hell are you doing here!? If you’re a spy from a nearby sect, you better state so instantly, or that information will be tortured out of you!”

“Dear elder, calm yourself. Would a spy be so blatant? No, I am here to challenge the head disciple of your sect to a spar. I would like to familiarize myself with the relative power of the neighboring sects.”

Everyone around him chuckled. Some uneducated country brat walked into their sect, and now he wants to challenge the young mistress to a match?

Preposterous.

“What a hick!”

“Get lost, you nobody!”

“Yeah, you do not even deserve to glance at the young mistress!”

However, the elder standing in front of Neave was far more apprehensive.

He couldn’t tell what this young master's cultivation was. So either a mighty treasure was hiding it, or he had a spirit power to disguise his progress—both options stank of trouble.

The elder turned to a random senior disciple behind him and whispered into their ear. The disciple looked shocked but obeyed and ran to find the young mistress. The elder turned to Neave and nodded.

“Very well, then. You will live to regret your rudeness. The Onyx Scorpion sect is no pushover, child.”

Neave smiled in response.

“Nuts.” He nodded solemnly.

“What?”

“Oh, nothing. I must have sneezed again. I am allergic to weakness, you see.”

Dead silence.

“You dare!” One of the disciples that looked to be a young teenager, stepped up. “There is no need to call forth the mistress to deal with a bastard like this! I will handle him personally!”

Less than a second later, the rushing disciple was on the floor. Nobody even saw what happened. There was no indication that Neave had moved, yet he stood over the disciple's unconscious body.

“Can you escort me to where you wish the duel to take place?” Neave asked with a soft smile on his face.

The elder nodded stiffly and walked down the hallway.

***

Around a hundred meters underground, a young woman sat on a black rock in the deepest parts of the Onyx Scorpion sect. This structure had been built at the limits of how deep sects could dig this far from the capital's center.

Any more than this, and there was a risk of breaking into a cavern.

Black rocks were scattered around. The air was dry but bursting with qi. The young woman got off the stone, lifted her sword, and began her dance. She was about to switch forms, but the door burst open.

“Elder Leeken has summoned you. An impudent young master challenged you to a duel.”

She lifted an eyebrow at that.

“And the elder agreed to this… Why?”

“I have no idea.”

She sighed.

“Very well.” She put her sword down in frustration and sheathed it at her hip.

Interrupting her training was an unforgivable sin. She would have to make an example out of this brat to ensure no more overzealous young masters dared overstep their boundaries.

And elder Leeken will be receiving an earful as well.

***

The courtyard floor was small and paved in stone. Neave waited, posing in a way that showed off his chiseled muscles.

Neave couldn’t just change his form to look more muscular. Perhaps he could, but he intuitively felt that wouldn’t make him stronger. Even this form felt unnatural, although he was slowly getting used to it.

Soon enough, a gloomy woman with straight black hair walked out from the halls of the sect. She appeared austere, although a little angry, which Neave found amusing.

Once she stepped before him, Neave bowed hand over fist and introduced himself.

“Hello, young mistress. My name is Deeze, and I challenge you to a duel!”

“Are you too embarrassed to share the name of your sect?”

Neave chortled.

“Sorry, I sneezed.”

“That was clearly a laugh. Did I say something funny?”

Neave laughed that time.

“There seems to be something in the air.”

The woman looked positively enraged as she unsheathed her sword.

“My name is Kleowara Onyxia, young mistress and head disciple of the Onyx Scorpion sect! You will not be spared for your insolence!”

Neave pulled the metal pipe out of his dimension ring. Kleowara shook in rage and lifted her sword.

“You… You fool! I will take an arm and both your legs for your insolence!”

She dashed at Neave and appeared before him in a blink. She swung her sword, which met the metal pipe with a clang, bending it a little. She was surprised at how weak he was, yet she felt her attack was parried effortlessly.

Before she could even realize what was happening, he was gone.

A metal pipe smacked right in the back of her head. The sound echoed through the courtyard, washing all other noise away and leaving pure, deathly silence in its wake.

Kleowara wasn’t knocked out. She wasn’t even injured. Yet she was stunned. She couldn’t believe it.

Neave didn’t hesitate; before anyone could come to terms with what he had just done, he did it again. He was obviously trying to be annoying.

Kleowara activated her spirit power. A massive ethereal scorpion stinger appeared from her back and stabbed at Neave. Neave disappeared again, and pipe met skull once more. The crowd was silent.

While he was making fun of her, it was clear his skills weren’t a joke.

“You bastard!” Kleowara’s sword lit up with a red glow, and she thrust at Neave with the weight of a mountain.

Neave disappeared again. This time, golden runes lit up around his body as he swung the metal pipe.

The rod smacked her head so hard that it didn’t merely bend; it wrapped around Kleowara’s head. She spun in the air and dropped to the ground, unconscious.

Neave took her dimension ring, waved at the other disciples, and disappeared.

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About the author

Robert Blaise

Bio: Man do I love recursion. Man do I love recursion. Man do I love recursion. Man do I love...

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