Chapter 11: Twin Opposites
Within a rocking cabin under the ship on the ninth day of sailing, Arcane locked the door behind her and disappeared from existence. She had spent the prior eight days enjoying the experience of doing nothing, feeling the sun on her skin and the wind on her back. A few troublesome flirtations had been easily dispatched and after the fourth day at sea she was essentially left alone, recognized as a person who preferred to keep to herself.
Arcane rather liked conversation, to be honest, but she had difficulty not talking too much and accidentally creating something akin to divine inspiration among those she talked to. Her knowledge far exceeded anyone else’s in this desolate era, and she had always been praised when she was correct. It took all her effort to keep herself from taking all the cultivators on board and instructing them in the proper method of doing so, as they were making so many obvious mistakes that an instructor from her time would have thrown up her hands in disgust and forbidden them from ever sullying the art with their presence again.
For example, during the circulation of energy, most of the elfbeasts were directing their intake of energy primarily towards certain locations they believed to be meridians and allowing it to radiate through their body from there, despite lacking a proper foundation of solidified channels which could withstand the energy. Others, of a higher realm mostly, were pushing energy into their skeletal structure and blood in the belief that would make them stronger. Arcane wanted to scream when she saw it; any even remotely competent cultivator knew that bone marrow, not the hard exterior, created blood and that the cells themselves died every few weeks. They should have concentrated energy towards the interior of the bones to reinforce their structure and production, not simply hardening the exterior so the bones were merely harder to break. They would still be breakable, but would be nigh on impossible to heal naturally without immense amounts of energy.
She also noted that not one cultivator circled energy into their brains, nor the spiritual connection of the dantian. It was as if they only knew the simplest form of physical energy storage and enhancement, similar to adding steel beams to one’s arms in an attempt to make their punches harder. It worked, but it was so much harder to actually deliver the blow that nobody actually did it.
Sure, Arcane disdained cultivation in general, even when it was done properly. It was a time consuming, effort intensive process which only occasionally paid off with a bit of stored energy and power. But when it was done improperly she noticed how much worse it could be and was grateful for her usual insistence on teaching methodology herself.
The summit of her frustration was when Annabelle pulled out a sheaf of yellowed paper on the sixth day, studying it with such fierce intensity that Arcane had to take a look. She was horrified instantly, noting the completely inaccurate description of meridians, the jumbled wording which meant everything and nothing at once, the diagrams which were hopefully made for a different species entirely (or from the author’s imagination), and the overall inability to convey any part of the information the written word was meant to. Arcane almost jumped off the yard and grabbed the sheaf out of Annabelle’s hand with the intention to destroy it, but she held herself back with the reminder that every civilization has to struggle through a period of ignorance before reaching enlightenment and civilization.
So Arcane secluded herself, hearing occasional conversations praising the princess’s ‘wondrous cultivation manual’ and the impressive rate of growth of everyone on the ship. Arcane mentally scolded herself at that last one. She hadn't been concerning herself over it, but she was a source of raw energy on par with the rest of the planet combined. It was no surprise those near to that source were able to enjoy some benefits from it. In response, Arcane merely tried to limit her interactions with the others further and keep the power dissipation to the level of ‘impressive’ rather than ‘miraculous.’ The first could be explained away by the positioning of the stars and tide; the second implied and required divine intervention.
But soon, in another day she expected, maintaining that separation would be both impossible and insufficient. Effort would be required sustain her low profile, a little bit now, or much more later. So, she rotated her dimensional alignment and found herself in another form of existence.
Stretching infinitely in every direction was a flat plain, devoid of any form of distinguishing feature. The sky shone a uniform dark blue, lacking the light of stars or the darkness of space. Within that timeless, spaceless realm Arcane appeared with her cyan dress and glass swords sheathed across her back. After confirming herself to be where she expected to be, the cyan haired girl took a deep breath and finally opened her closed eyes.
A storm of power exploded, but was quickly suppressed to merely a thin aura covering the girl’s body in a cyan light. Energy crackled and sparked at the edges of that aura, the terrible storm of power Arcane generated being held back by the relentless energies of this plane. Arcane examined the boundary with her open eyes, the terrible light that filled them dimming with every second to reveal the pupils and irises beneath. Once the light had dimmed enough and the energy storm calmed down, Arcane created a mirroring surface in the space in front of her and looked at her own eyes.
They were beautiful, she determined. Her symmetric features, so perfectly proportioned as to seem inhuman, were not necessarily attractive, and her slight body absolutely lacked the appeal of a more developed female, but her eyes could change both interpretations.
At their center were black pupils, deep pools of darkness filled with ancient wisdom and endless time. Even without considering what surrounded them, they drew eyes and minds into their dark embrace. Within those pupils one could lose themselves forever, even if one were the very person to whom they belonged.
Arcane tore her enraptured self away from those pupils to examine the brilliantly colored irises. When she was young, those irises had the same color as her hair, a striking shade of cyan that could not be natural. Now, they swirled with a spiraling rainbow, stretches of numerous colors striking through them. Bright scarlet touched orange and ginger on one side, while specks of pink and violet decorated the other. Blues and greens of every shade danced in between, emerald hues mingling with almost yellow limes and darker forest greens while sky blue darkened to deepest navy in other places. The base of the varied colors was barely visible to be cyan, a palette on which the rainbow colors swam with others such as brown, and black, and white and gold and silver. Patterns seemed to form and dissolve as the colors constantly moved, an optical illusion that drew the eye and held it fixedly without any hope of escape or comprehension.
Arcane looked closer and closer, seeing the tiny spirals of rainbow color and arcs of descending hues that linked light and dark, or danced around isolated points of color. Every cell seemed to be a different shade to create an unending cacophony of myriad hues. She was fascinated by this dance, the colors brightening and darkening to form symbols and words that circled her eyes and disappeared as quickly as they came.
Blinking to cut off the hypnotic effect her eyes had even on herself, Arcane check the whites of her eyes and noted the patterns of blood vessels creating lightning-esque paths from the storm of color in the center to the grounding pale flesh and red tissue on the outer edge. Yet even here there existed an unnatural complication, as flashes of light traveled along them constantly and they shifted slowly, new red lightnings surging from and towards the iris’s storm while old ones faded and vanished.
Arcane closed her eyes for a long time and nodded. Undoing the reflective effect she pulled out her glass sword and held it in the still raging storm of pure energy surrounding her.
“... It is becoming more and more difficult to look at those.” Arcane noted, blinking to break the accidental eye contact with the reflections made in the sword. “Though I rather doubt there will be anyone capable of doing so other than me.”
Arcane glared at the storm of energy surrounding her, waving her hand through the lightnings and only creating many more. Electric blue sparks ionized the air rapidly and gave her a devastating halo.
“... Tch.” She muttered as her attempts to control the storm were at first ineffective. As she had surmised the energy which flowed out from her body was no longer under her complete control. Sighing, she reached inwards to grasp the massive ocean of power whose outermost waves were creating this halo. Wrapping herself in a cocoon of energy she squeezed everything around her tighter and constrained the storm to within her skin. The lightnings grew smaller and smaller before finally vanishing, leaving Arcane standing alone in the middle of the great plain of nothing.
“Inefficient, honestly.” Arcane said while measuring the power consumption of this method of sealing. “Whatever.”
She released the cocoon and allowed the storm to surge back with renewed vengeance.
“Everyone leaks a bit of power, Arcane.” She told herself while shaking her head. “Just like they leak a tiny bit of urine. Right, just a tiny bit that squeezes through the most miniscule of gaps in your control.”
Arcane glared at the storm with anger. “Yeah they do, Arcane, but most people don’t leak enough power to decimate a planet!” She replied to herself, rolling her eyes. “That’s not usually considered a good thing, no ma’am.”
Arcane sighed and saturated the area with her power. The storm shot outwards and now manifested several meters away from her, at the boundary where her energy met that of the rest of this plane. Planting the glass sword hilt up in the ground, she sat cross legged in front of it and continued her conversation with herself.
“The normal seal reduces the power leaked to unnoticeable levels, but they remain measurable. Thus, we need to either increase the efficiency of the seal - very difficult - or find some way to siphon that extra power into a dedicated storage.” She explained to no one, nodding at the sword. “Of course, we also need to come up with an explanation for our above average power that won’t get us recruited by hordes of pleading supplicants, because we’ve been there and done that.”
“I thought we liked hordes of pleading supplicants, though.” She retorted herself, raising an eyebrow.
“We do, but… Bleh. I should at least make some sort of responding doll if I want to do this.” Arcane threw up her hands in disgust, spitting on the ground as she was about to reply to herself again. Rolling backwards to lay on the ground she turned her head to the sword still sticking out of the ground.
“Hopefully this fixes both problems, though there’s not much I can do about my possible insanity.” She said without much intonation.
Arcane sat up forcefully and grabbed the sword, pulling it and its partner still sheathed across her back into her lap. “One or both? Probably both, so it’s not so curious when I give one away.” Arcane decided out loud, turning the swords so they sat parallel on her thighs.
“Let’s see… Abilities shown are manipulation of wind into blades, which is a pretty standard sword technique; enhanced speed, which is amusingly enough in the same system; sharpness and prescience… the first is easy, but prescience is going to be a problem. Enhanced senses, I guess? Sure, also wind elemental if I choose to use mana.” Arcane started writing in glowing letters above the blades, writing in simple words precisely what she was saying. Pausing with her hand midair, she thought for a second about any more abilities she could credit to the blades instead of herself.
“Swordsmanship… I can write techniques, but actual ability is difficult to enhance without giving it a consciousness. I could do that, of course, but it would be annoying if it remembered something inconvenient.” Arcane tapped the glowing words, still thinking out loud. “The crushing of the lizards would be way too much; if that girl was even half right about their combat prowess adding that would make these strategic weapons instead of merely tactical ones. Maybe use them to explain cultivation as well? Instructions up to, I don’t know, the eighteenth tier shouldn’t be an issue, right? That’s only double what they already know.”
Arcane sketched out a set of things she wanted to add to the swords, nodding in satisfaction. Before she was able to begin the actual crafting she started and quickly added one more line. “Concealment! Can’t believe I forgot to add that one, jeez. That could have been a huge issue.” She reminded herself, shaking her head ruefully.
“So let’s see, we have a wind elemental magic sword with the ability to create blades of wind, enhance speed and agility, superior sharpness - let’s add self repair after that one and move it to the front,” Arcane swipes the glowing words down and brings ‘Sharpness’ to the front with the note ‘self repair’ being quickly written in flowing cursive after it. “Enhanced senses - also should be more forward - and knowledge of cultivation techniques and swordsmanship, plus a concealment ability to hide the power of the weapon and the cultivation of the user up to the first divide; I mean twentieth tier.” Arcane examines her list and nods. “Yep, I can do that.”
Reaching for her belt, Arcane pulls out the pouch of sand lizard beast cores and pours them out onto the sand. Selecting four large ones and eight smaller ones, she divides them into two piles and lays the crystal swords atop each.
Calculating instantly the energy available in each, she gestures towards the piles of cores under the swords. The cores swell and start glowing, overwhelmed with the energy Arcane used to fill them. Frowning slightly Arcane adds a bit more, making the four largest cores swell even further until they start cracking around the edges. Nodding slowly she stopped feeding energy into the cores and drew out tiny threads of power to surround and hold each element of the crafting process.
Sharpness was the first word, she noted in a brief glance at the still glowing list. Tightening the threads around one of the smaller cores in each pile, she wove a barely visible conduit of glowing energy from the core to the tips of each sword, then carefully folded the space around one to move all of its edge to that point. Distortions in the air rippled outwards as the blade part of the sword seemed to be cut off, leaving a flat edge while the air around the tip fluctuated wildly. Carefully, very carefully, Arcane drained the core under that tip and pushed its energy towards the point, drawing the energy into the phrase ‘forever sharp’ in connected cursive. Unblinking, she felt the energy resisting her design and imposed her will on the pattern of energy, commanding it to maintain perfect sharpness within that tiny point of space. After a brief struggle it yielded, the energy flowing rapidly from the core into the spell matrix and sharpening the blade to unbelievable levels as the core crumbled into dust. Arcane even more carefully restored space to its previous arrangement, redistributing the edge back along the blade while keeping the spell intact. After a few tense seconds, she succeeded.
Arcane repeated the process on the other blade, the entire process only taking a few seconds despite how much she had to concentrate to perform it. Pausing to examine the blades, Arcane took one and swung it through the air.
She grimaced as a line in space was created, though only for a nanosecond even she barely perceived. The energy was slightly too much for this enchantment, so Arcane modified it slightly to emphasize ‘forever’ instead of ‘sharp’. When she swung it again space remained intact, though she noted that it would probably still make a tiny impact on the weaker space of the main universe. Then she remembered that the energy density was far less as well, which may well cancel it out. Shrugging, she decided to be satisfied with the first enchantment.
Taking one of the swords, she created a conduit to the next core while noting ‘enhanced senses’ as the next item. Thinking for a second she created a spell that would amplify sounds the user heard by picking up vibrations with the blade and enhancing them for the user to hear. She also added a calculational matrix which would increase the hearing range of the user to include lower and higher frequencies. This time she imbued the spell in the crystal structure of the hilt and up through the core of the sword, using the energy to form and stabilize that structure. Some energy was left over with how efficiently she made it, which Arcane formed into the words ‘hear things’ in connected cursive energy. A red herring for anyone attempting to study the enchantments to find and attempt to replicate before they could detect the far more advanced crystalline matrix.
She kept the same sword in her hand while weaving a third conduit to another small core in its pile, the two piles of dust blowing away in a mysterious wind that touched nothing else. This time she was going to add the wind blade ability; trivially she crafted a wielded spell formation which could create the blades from input mana or qi. Active enchantments were so much easier than passive ones, merely requiring one to create the channels necessary for power to flow through and activate a spell. The third core crumbled to dust after laying the formation along the length of the sword.
Arcane moved on to the fourth, the core destined to create the agility boost. Enhancing flexibility was as easy as changing the entire body of the wielder; in other words, this was destined to be one of the more difficult enchantments. She got around the major issue by requiring the user to send their energy flowing through the blade, thereby allowing the words of energy “Purify and enhance” to clean the energy and make it flow faster through the body. This would enhance the agility boost the power itself gave, giving greater effect the more powerful the individual using it was. The fourth small core followed its fellows into oblivion, disappearing with its energy spent and its structure destroyed.
Arcane stopped with the first sword to give it a chance to harmonize the first four enchantments, repeating her work on the other sword by doing the three simultaneously. Without thinking much she linked the enchantments and harmonized them herself, weakening the overall power of the blade but also guaranteeing she was the only one able to use it. A security process she didn’t particularly want, but necessary from the already seen example of another being unable to use her weapon. The second was unlinked, a security blanket she would have kept in case her blade was taken while the first could be taken and seen to be unusable to dishearten aggressors. She thought it a rather clever plan herself, almost like something she would have done if she was inclined to complex planning.
Or planning in general, honestly.
Returning to the first sword, while letting her energy permeate the second, she took one of the large cores in her hand and built a conduit through her own body between it and the sword. This would be the enchantment of knowledge, filled with sword techniques and cultivation methods. Selecting sword techniques was easy; a wind sword such as this deserved a speed focused style based around slashing and cutting power. A style typically using a curved sword and lightly armored fighters came to mind, with a heavy dose of agile motion involved. Letting the images and designs of that ancient style flow through her, she inscribed the first word in cursive to be ‘katana.’
Cultivation knowledge was an entirely different beast. There were as many correct methods as there were individuals, the best method for one person perhaps being useless for another. However, there were a few general methods that could get one to the first divide no matter what kind of being they were so long as they had body, mind, and spirit. Arcane first added a method of tempering the body, starting from the marrow and heart, then moving to the lungs and stomach before permeating through the digestive system and respiratory organs. She then described how to imbue energy into the brain and nerves to better control one’s own body before finishing with the hardening of the skin and bones with excess energy until the first divide. For the spirit, she focused on expanding the potential storage by compressing energy and using the rest of it to strengthen and widen the spiritual container. Her instructions for strengthening the mind were least clear, merely instructing one to focus on the other changes and follows what the energy was doing. The rest were fully explained, Arcane allowing no jumbled phrases or bad grammar in her cultivation manual. The words of energy filled the sword, swimming invisibly around in the blade and hilt until the user was able to see them, which required a certain level of power to be invested to make the words appear little by little.
Arcane closed her eyes and let the information flow through her mind. Confirming each level of power to be at the proper place and the techniques to be easily understandable was a trivial matter, and she quickly grabbed the last core in the pile and began weaving a far more complex spell over the sword.
‘Undetectable’ she wrote in cursive down the length of the blade, the energy placed into that word dwarfing the rest. She placed her will into it, ordering the blade to absorb all leaked energy and absorb any detection spells without a trace. Using the same principle as anti-radar countermeasures in ancient space combat, she made the sword into a magical black hole, into which detection spells without sufficient power would be absorbed to strengthen the concealment even further. With the blade in hand any attempts to detect the energy of the wielder would be doomed to fail, up to and above the level of the first divide. Even Arcane had trouble detecting the spells she herself had placed on the blade when she let go, leading her to smile happily.
The other blade was given the same treatment, just as carefully and precisely. These enchantments were important, especially the concealment one for Arcane. If she measured it correctly, the blade would absorb the excess power she radiated even when her eyes were closed, rendering the increased cultivation of those around her null.
As a finishing touch Arcane wrote along the side of the blades, naming them. Her own she called “Obscurus”, a word with many meanings. A adjective meaning secret and strange, synonymous with her own name of Arcane, as well as the verb root ‘obscure’ meaning to conceal, much as she intended it to do.
The other blade she called “Elucidation”, meaning to give enlightenment. Despite having all the same powers as Obscurus, Elucidation’s purpose was completely opposite, intending to reveal the answers to some mysteries and help the primitive race on this world achieve civilization. Please with her work, Arcane sheathed both blades after carving their names in both the language of the gods (at the time of her birth it was called by the far less pretentious name of Galactic Standard) and that of this world.
Only a few minutes had passed since she started, but Arcane felt more tired than she had after destroying the star she had woken up around. Destruction was easy, she reminded herself, while creation was much, much harder. Or at least it was if done properly.
“Not like I should really care,” Arcane muttered to herself while lying on her back. She raised her hand and allowed her massive power to flow around it, reality itself warping as the multicolored power swirled around her. In the warped space she saw images of universes being created and destroyed as her mind wandered, recalling old stories or new jokes. A single idle thought manifested thousands of sword in that flow to float on the verge between reality and imagination. Arcane blinked and let her hand fall, allowing the imagined entities to disappear as the power surrounding them failed.
“So troublesome.” she commented on the effects of her power, shaking her head.
Sheathing the newly enchanted swords on her back, Arcane turned through six dimensions to return to the universe where she had started. It was still rocking in the exact same way as when she left, without a single detail changed.
That really wasn’t a surprise. One of the dimensions Arcane had rotated had been time, after all, leaving and returning at precisely the same instant. To her senses the pair of swords on her back were exactly the same as they had been originally, making her nod again before taking them out and testing them. Neither managed to cut through space, their enchantments far weaker in the less energetic outskirts of the universe even if the space was similarly more vulnerable.
Stretching out on the floor, Arcane rolled over and went to sleep, her eyes maintaining the closed state they had resumed as soon as she started her rotation. Dreaming of creation of weapons that truly exerted her abilities, things which strained the limits of her talent and held power surpassing stars, dwarfing even the gravity trumpet she made as she awoke, she enjoyed a peaceful set of happy dreams that had no trace of fire or blood.