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I pull the ribbon off of the art and unroll it. In deep purple letters, it reads at the top, “The super art of the shell.” This must’ve fallen from the bookshelf somehow when I hit it.

“The super art of the shell enables a cultivator to turn their entire body into a dantian. It involves cycling the energy gathered through the day throughout the entire body. Activate the scroll for further information.”

I get the distinct feeling that this art, or super art, was made for me. I pick up the remainder of the scrolls I copied and move them to Sir Orris’ table.

I realize the art being made for me is nonsense but at the same time, what are the odds that the very art I need to get past my current situation would just fall on top of my head if it weren’t fate?

Okay, I realize there are calculable odds, but I don’t want to think about that right now. Vivi explained to me that cripples are given a bad time in society. Worse than those who cannot cultivate at all because they are pure mortals.

They often treat those, who are not pure mortals, who cannot cultivate with disdain and they will pick on them.

“You,” Sir Orris’ voice booms, startling me.

“Yes, sir?” I reply.

“Give me that,” he demands.

I hand it over and sigh, so much for that idea.

He unfurls the art and stares at it a moment before rolling it up and handing it back to me. He coughs, “What is the name of that art, I don’t have Truth’s Sight.”

“The super art of the Shell,” I clarify. I can’t let this chance pass me, “Would it be possible to…”

“Absolutely not, I cannot give you that art,” Sir Orris berates.

“I was just wondering if I could learn it, not have it and not for free.” I remind.

Sir Orris’ face breaks into a maniacal grin, “Is that so?” He walks over to his desk and sits down, “How much do you think it is worth, little girl?”

“I don’t know,” I admit. I can’t pay for this. I’m not sure why I said not for free.

Sir Orris picks up one of the simple arts I copied and unfurls it, “This simple scroll is worth 3 gold.”

My heart falls into my stomach, 3 gold? 1 gold is worth a hundred silver, which is worth a hundred copper, which are worth a hundred bits. Making one gold worth a million bits. Bits, from what I’ve learned from Bola are basically pennies. So one gold is worth around ten thousand copper. That simple scroll is worth thirty thousand copper.

Sir Orris picks up one of the hidden art scrolls I copied, “This is worth a hundred gold, a little less now that it’s no longer hidden.” He points to the scroll in my hand, “A hidden super art is, on average, worth three times that.”

“That much…” I manage to whisper looking at the scroll in my hand. I place it in front of me on my desk and I’m actually afraid of touching it. It’s worth three million copper.

“Yes, that much,” Sir Orris confirms.

I shake my head to clear my thoughts, I look around us and see many sections of the bookshelf dedicated to scrolls. They must have thousands.

Bola told me that no matter the situation, a cultivator must persevere. He said he’s jealous of me having a seal versus being crippled. He’d trade me in a heartbeat.

“If I learn that art, I may be more useful,” I declare looking Sir Orris in the eyes.

“How do you figure, little girl?” Sir Orris counters.

“It could give me a second dantian covering my entire body,” I gesture from my head to my toes, “I could then gather my own essence and start to cultivate like everyone else.” I walk toward Sir Orris’ desk and sit down in front of him, holding the scroll in my lap. “I wouldn’t be a… cripple,” I remark, punctuating the last word for emphasis.

“Okay,” Sir Orris relents.

“What?” I ask, to be sure.

“I said Okay. However, when I held the scroll I could tell it requires at least a Sky Realm Cultivator to activate without destroying it,” he extends his thumb and points it to his chest, “I’ll have to activate it for you so we do not lose it.” He looks down at the scroll on my lap, “It’s much too soon for you to try and copy it.

“Since you’ve never activated an art before, I’ll explain how it works.” Sir Orris holds out his hand and gestures for the scroll, I respond in kind.

“Later, when you’re able, I will teach you how to activate a scroll, how to use someone else’s essence to activate a scroll, how to target someone other than yourself when activating a scroll and finally, how to not destroy a scroll when activating it.”

Sir Orris closes his eyes and the scroll lifts up from his hand and unrolls on its own. The scroll’s text faces me and the part of the page I can’t make heads or tails of shifts from deep purple to white. The white pattern lifts off of the page leaving the original intact, regaining its deep purple color. The white script starts to rotate and shoots toward my forehead.

Tens of thousands of times the essence that I can gather in a day, if I were doing nothing but that, enters my body at once. The knowledge of the super art fills my mind and I know what must be done. I push the essence through my body and fix it throughout in even amounts creating a lattice around every square inch. Before if I would mentally let go the essence that I gathered it would simply dissipate in seconds into the air around me.

That still happens, but a very small amount stays behind and permeates my body trickling out much slower.

“Hmm, you may be able to do a little more now, but that art is terrible or your compatibility is,” Sir Orris comments, breaking me from my trance.

I reflect inward and notice he is right. The essence in my body is very sparse, I could gather this much in thirty minutes of practice. Though it would be difficult to maintain my grip on it afterward.

Sir Orris holds the art up again and uses it on himself. He completes the entire process in a mere second and as he finishes the lattice work he builds around his body it ablates away. He frowns.

“Useless,” he remarks. “The pressure exerted by my dantian destroyed the results of the art after I finished.” He tosses the scroll to me, “You have a week. If you can’t learn to activate the art yourself, or have help to activate it in that time, you’re fired.”

“What if I accidentally destroy it?” I ask, fretting over the cost of the hidden super art.

“Then you’re fired,” Sir Orris says in a deadpan voice. He sighs and returns to his work, “I won’t charge you for that art though, it may be a hidden super art, but after seeing it in action, it’s worth less than a single gold.”

Sir Orris gestures to the small stack of arts I copied, “You’ve already made us at least that much here.

“I will teach you during this next week the basics of arts and how to preserve them properly.” Sir Orris pulls out a sand timer and taps it with his quill, “You’ll only have thirty minutes a day with the super art.”

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Allen Clark Copeland, Jr.

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