Jav Holson has a time bomb ticking away inside him with one chance to survive: learn the martial art known as the Eighteen Heavenly Claws and win the Artifact Competition. The prize will make him an elite Shade of the Viscain Empire and virtually immortal. There's just one catch: learning the Eighteen Heavenly Claws.
Jav is willing and able, but nobody knows when the time bomb will go off. Undeterred, he practices long past dark every day, enduring heavy gravity training and the not-so-petty abuse of other students. His only distraction is carving stone flowers for the girl he inadvertently put into a coma, and for Mai, who takes over his training.
Even as Jav begins to excel, developing a number of unique techniques based on the advanced Approaching Infinity principles, one of his teachers tries to kill him in a fit of prideful anger. Another tries to seduce him, which would be all well and good if Jav hadn't already fallen for Mai.
His every success has a cost and every step along the tightrope path is a hazard, but the competition still lies ahead. For all the challenges his training poses, Jav must still cross fists with the top fighters of the Viscain Empire and risk a double--permanent--loss to ensure his preservation.