Chapter 57 Learning the Sword
In the shadow of a trailer beneath the light of a crescent moon, Rayleigh held a sword and slowly performed a sword kata that fit the double edged broadsword in his grip.
It had been three months since he joined the circus and said circus was currently on a break. Twice a year, in February and August, the carnies would scatter and maintenance would be performed on everything. Every piece of the Ferris wheel and roller coaster would be checked. Every wall of every booth would be painted. Every hole in every cloth would be sewn up or replaced. Costumes would be updated, animals would be let loose in specialized preserves to have some fun, and new performances for the next five months would be planned.
During this time, one would think that Jacques Duquesne would have more free time to teach his students, but that was not exactly the case. According to Jacques, he had other things he needed to do, so he left the pair to their own devices until he returned. Since Rayleigh had money, he could even take care of food for them both, meaning that Jacques would not need to worry about the pair.
This was fine with Ray, since he could easily use the Force to unlock Jacques' sword collection and use Psychometry on it all.
The sword Rayleigh currently held was one Duquesne might actually kill him for touching. Every sword in the man's collection was something he acquired throughout his life, but this one was an exception. According to the stories Jacques told the pair, this was the Cavalier's Sword. Jacques Duquesne was a descendant of the Cavalier, a masked fighter, and a hero from centuries ago. The sword was well taken care of and perfectly preserved, so the shine on it was flawless and made it look almost new. But as Rayleigh's Psychometry could tell, it was far from new. Not only was it used by the Cavalier, but it was also used by numerous members of his family all the way up until Jacques Duquesne himself. This was the sword he used to master swordsmanship.
In Rayleigh's hand, he could feel the skill the previous users had and the training that they underwent, and he intended to spend the time needed to methodically imprint that skill into his mind. The problem with Psychometry was that the impression faded after releasing the item, it could only be retained if used, and Rayleigh intended to use it all. The best part was that he could do so with each of his Wills. He had eleven Wills and hoped to break the next barrier to seventeen in the next few years.
A true swordsman has decades of experience and muscle memory for the use of a sword. So how did Rayleigh intend to cheat? Simple, he would have most of his Wills constantly practice the forms he was imprinting in his mind, all day, every day. If he could have ten Wills practicing every day for three years, wouldn't that grant him thirty years of experience?
This shortcut was a concept he stole from a Yu Yu Hakusho villain that mastered a martial art that takes decades to master in only a few years by multiplying his training speed using multiple personalities. The difference was that the presence of any of Rayleigh's extra Wills only existed when he needed them and they were all him, so he could get the benefits of multiple personalities without the baggage.
After practicing and stealing what could be called real swordsmanship, Rayleigh figured out the difference between the Jedi Lightsaber forms and actual swordsmanship.
Lightsaber Forms were a way of using the Force. They were almost worthless to those who could not use the Force. Swordsmanship was the way of using the sword. Though the two seemed alike, the two paths only ran parallel for a short time before diverging into completely different directions.
Rayleigh also learned the aspects of swordsmanship that the Jedi had no need for. The advantages given by these aspects were ignored by the Jedi as they could be duplicated with the Force, so they had been left out from the foundation entirely.
From what Rayleigh learned from the memories of the Cavalier's Sword, the secret strength and speed from true swordsmanship didn't actually come from the muscles, but the tendons and ligaments.
Everything starts from the first step. A sword does not cut by remaining motionless, to cut, you must move, so everything starts on the first step where the foot moves forward and stamps on the ground.
A step consists of two stages. The first stage is where the pressure on the foot continues to increase. During this first stage, specific joints need to be strained. The source of the strain are the partially stretched muscles that have been stretched from the force of the foot stomp. The strain is meant to stretch the tendons and ligaments around the joint. This strain only has meaning however if the joints are positioned properly. The angle must be exact, the position must be exact, the posture, weight, pressure, and muscle tenseness must be exact. By the time the pressure on the foot has reached the maximum, the body should be turned into a stretched rubber band.
The second stage of the first step is the act of moving forward and lightening of the pressure on the foot. During this step, the angled joints are swiveled and the stretched ligaments and tendons around those joints have room to retract. The muscles contract while the tendons and ligaments at the end of those muscles retract as well. The secret of a swordsman's speed is the combination of the contracting muscles on top of the retracting tendons and ligaments.
This process is repeated in the second step. As weight applies to the foot, the pressure from that weight is used to tense the tendons around various joints which form a line from the big toe around the body to the sword in hand. The accelerated movement from the first step is used to once more stretch anything that can be stretched like a rubber band to be released as the weight from the foot is lessened, and the cycle continues again for every following step.
A real swordsman has a thousand tiny precise adjustments and mechanisms in every movement. It was also from this understanding that Rayleigh got a sense of what One with the Sword and what Heart of the Sword meant.
One with the Sword implied that you had a perfect understanding of the precise angles, adjustments, weights, pressures, and strengths for a sword to be used to its fullest potential. Obviously, just about every sword is different, so the exact adjustments for each sword were not identical. One with the Sword meant your movement had no room for error, that it was 100% efficient, and that your body was nothing more than an extension of your sword. Unlike cultivation novels, it was usually only possible for a person to achieve this state with a sword they had used for years. Asking them to do the same with a different sword would usually be impossible.
The reason Rayleigh said usually, was that Jacques Duquesne seemed to achieve One with the Sword with every sword he possessed. That was quite a terrifying level of talent if you took into account that the man only started learning the sword when he was eighteen.
Heart of the Sword was different. You didn't need to achieve One with the Sword to obtain the Heart of the Sword, and between the two, the Heart of the Sword was superior, by a lot. Jacques Duquesne had not achieved this and seemed to keep training in the hopes of doing so one day.
Whereas One with the Sword gave its user perfect movement, Heart of the Sword gave its user perfect timing. Heart of the Sword basically meant you didn't need your brain to move when using the sword. Your body moved automatically without delay. It was similar to Rayleigh's Force: Program, or the Jedi's Force Valor. It allowed its user to move quickly without thinking, and the lack of delay could actually out speed someone who was One with the Sword as long as the skills of the person with the Heart of the Sword wasn't too lacking.
In other words, One with the Sword was the skill level of big bad bosses. Heart of the Sword was the skill level of the sword wielding protagonist that always seemed to defeat the bosses that had more skill and training.
The Cavalier himself had achieved the Heart of the Sword state, and Rayleigh could immerse himself in the Cavalier's Heart of the Sword and Duquesne's One with the Sword as long as he practiced with this treasure.
When combined, Heart of the Sword and One with the Sword basically turned the area around you into a sword. This could be called a Sword Domain. It was the territory where you were basically invincible, and the area of the domain depended on the strength of your first step.
Did Rayleigh feel cringe when using Cultivation terms? Not really. Especially when he understood what they actually meant and what he needed to do to achieve them. Rayleigh also remembered that he had to achieve the Heart of the Sword if he wanted to learn from a good swordsman in the pirate world, and now he knew how to achieve it.
Even if Rayleigh could not find that state himself, he could build it. He knew what it felt like, and he knew how to use Program to move without thinking. As long as he had enough time, he could probably create a Swordheart Automated Program.
Getting everything perfect however was not even easy to say, much less do, even with cheats as massive as his own.
Under the moonlight, Rayleigh moved very slowly, not caring in the slightest about his speed, but his posture. The only time he moved quickly was when he stomped his foot, since using the pressure from stomping your foot to tense the tendons in your body wasn't something you could accurately accomplish in slow motion.
Thanks to the use of Force Muffle and Force Stealth, no one noticed him even if they were walking around, so Rayleigh could practice undisturbed until daybreak.
After stomping his foot, he needed to tense the tendon that went from the front of his foot to the back, the tendon that went from his heel around the back of his thigh to his knee, from his knee to his hip, from his hip to his torso, from his torso to his chest, from his chest to his shoulder, from his shoulder to his arm, from his arm to his wrist, and from his wrist to his sword. A direct line of tensed tendons and ligaments and muscles held as tense as possible through the use of twisting his body, rotating his leg, swiveling his foot, adjusting his shoulder, and bending his arm while keeping only part of his wrist tight while the rest of his fingers held a flexible grip.
This chain was basically a long series of muscles and rubber bands that, after his position moved at the end of his stomp, retracted and contracted in a way that sent him forward while also moving him into position to stretch and extend another set of muscles into another set of stretched rubber bands that would power the next step.
Because muscles, tendons, and ligaments did not simply travel up and down the body in straight lines, the postures, angles, orientations, and movements of the required steps to take the greatest advantage of them were not exactly intuitive, so he needed to memorize everything with his body when he had the chance.
In addition to practicing the precise movements and imprinting the sword's experiences into his body, he also used the time to practice Shū on the sword while using Ryū and Ken for each movement, focusing his aura into his tendons and muscles to enhance their strength.
The past few months had been very, very productive for Rayleigh. Besides learning what a swordsman actually was, he also managed to use that to break past one of the most irritating problems he encountered using the Force.
If Rayleigh used the Force to move his body slower than his muscles could move it, the effect was pointless as he would just move at the speed his body was capable of with muscles alone. If he used the Force to move his body faster than his muscles were capable of, then it was not assisted or improved by his muscles. His body simply moved by whichever means was faster, and the two sources of movement did not stack up.
Now that Rayleigh understood the mechanics behind swordsmanship, he figured out a way around this. The Jedi and Je'daii had both tried to use the Force to directly contract muscles, but it was far too complex and the benefit was still less than full puppetry. This also did not overcome the problem of overlapping forces. The muscle would still move at the speed the Force contracted it and was not improved by having stronger muscles. But as Rayleigh learned, the speed and power of a swordsman actually came from the tendons being used on top of the muscles. So what if Rayleigh applied the Force to his tendons?
A muscle is connected to two bones by two tendons. When a muscle contracts, those bones move relative to each other. Rayleigh's work around for the problem of overlapping forces was not to add the Force to help retract the muscles, but to add the Force to help retract the tendons. It sounded similar, but the forces on a muscle and tendon were actually equal and opposite when the muscle was in use, so if Rayleigh applied force using the Force to that opposite pressure on the tendons when the muscles were in use, then the Force would be directly added to the force of the muscle's contraction.
Basically, Rayleigh was recreating Force Valor. The original Force Valor puppeted the whole body using strings outside the body to move it. Rayleigh's new creation would basically replace all the tendons with Force strings that would pull the muscle to the bone during movement, a physical machination that would directly add to the speed and power that his body's muscles were capable of. He called the new skill, Force Augment.
Would it take a while to master? Yeah, but he was using proper swordsmanship as a foundation and building from that. The Force was all about imagery, so having a strong image to build upon was very beneficial.
Technically, using the Force to retract the tendons had the same problem as using the Force to retract muscles since it would make the actual elasticity of the tendons pointless and replace it. This however was something Rayleigh saw as beneficial. Unlike muscles, tendons were quite fragile over time. Even with the Force, years and decades of continuous wear and tear would never heal properly. Replacing the weakest link of his body with something of infinite potential was a good thing in his books.
As the sun began to rise, Rayleigh wiped the sweat from his body and returned to Duquesne's trailer to put his ancestral sword back.
Rayleigh returned to the hotel room he shared with Clint and woke him up for morning exercises. His sword practice trained his swordsmanship, Nen, and Force, but didn't train his physical body as much as he wanted it to. Any training that didn't involve remaining in the 2nd level of Zetsu while wearing weights didn't count as proper training in his mind.
The reason he woke up Clint was that Clint had seen him doing the exercises required to master the Marine's Six Techniques and he wanted to join. Although the MCU didn't have a main character in the same way the other worlds did, Rayleigh doubted Clint would be a small figure in the future thanks to the fact that he received training from two humans with peak skills that both had titles. So Rayleigh didn't mind teaching Clint how to improve himself further.
The training required to master the Marine's Six Techniques would grant mastery over the body. Even if he didn't teach Clint the actual techniques, just the training would vastly improve Clint's repertoire of skills in the future by giving him a near perfect baseline. The only thing Rayleigh asked was that Clint didn't use his methods to train others. He didn't think it would be a good idea for advanced lifeform training to spread out in the MCU.
Another benefit of Force Augment was that he felt with a bit more training and practice, he could use it to achieve some of the Marine's Six techniques even before going to the Pirate World and unlocking the Pirate Class. His muscles were already strong enough, he just needed his tendons to retract faster to use skills like Moon Walk, Shave, and Storm Leg. Tendons were the hardest things to train, but Rayleigh's Force Augment directly replaced the need for overpowered tendons, granting him the minimum required speed to use them.
And since Rayleigh was creating a foundation for swordsmanship at the moment, he certainly didn't mind adding the Six Techniques into his swordsmanship.
Still, he wouldn't need to use Force Augment all the time, so he didn't mind going through the strict training to strengthen his tendons along with the training to strengthen his muscles, bones, and nerves along side his new friend.
Though, said friend was less than appreciative when he understood how painful Rayleigh's training actually was.
The conversation between the pair when Clint asked to train with him still haunted the young archer. Rayleigh pointed out, "If you train with me, there are only two paths. You keep up, or you die. Are you certain you want to train? You won't get to back out once we start."
Clint agreed, thinking Rayleigh was joking. He was not.
After re-entering the hotel room, Rayleigh announced, "It's time for morning exercises."
Still partially asleep, Clint responded with, "I don't wanna."
Rayleigh didn't argue. Instead, he got out some rope and itching powder. He then ripped off Clint's blanket and threw a bunch on him. This had woken Clint up, but he wasn't fast enough to avoid Rayleigh wrapping him back up in his blanket and tying him up with rope.
Rayleigh then threw the burrito back onto his bed and said, "That's fine, you can stay there as long as you want." The screams and begging were completely ignored as Rayleigh made himself some breakfast and turned on the Hotel's TV. He couldn't hear anything over the sound of Clint's screams, but it had subtitles, and Rayleigh had used Force Muffle on the room so they wouldn't get any unwanted attention.
Eventually, Clint wiggled out and ran into the bathroom for a shower. The itching powder was water soluble, so it washed away clean, but a phantom itch would remain for the rest of the day.
After drying himself off, he exited the bathroom and glared at Rayleigh. "I hate you."
Rayleigh lifted his arms to show that, at the moment, they were covered in the same itching powder. He then replied back, "Whimp."
Clint couldn't say anything to that. Thanks to his training with a bow, his arm strength was far above someone of his own age as a soon to be sixteen year old. But Rayleigh, as a soon to be fourteen year old, was always stronger and he'd never won a single fight with his fellow student of the Swordsman.
Rayleigh passed some breakfast to Clint and as the pair ate, Clint asked, "What's today's torture?"
Rayleigh answered honestly, "Bone training."
Clint felt a pang of phantom pain at the two innocuous words and wanted to cry. Part of him was determined to become a physicist, build a time machine, and go back in time to beat the crap out of his younger self for agreeing to learn under Rayleigh.
The reason Rayleigh insisted on going through till the end was to make sure Clint understood how valuable the training was, so he would not spread it carelessly. And if Rayleigh just so happened to turn this training into a psychological scar, then that just meant Clint was even less likely to use it to train anyone else.
The one benefit of the training was that it prevented Clint from asking why Ray was so strong. Rayleigh simply told him that this was how his mother trained him.
That actually brought up an interesting point at the time. Clint remarked, "If you are this strong, and your mother taught you, how was your mother killed in a mugging?"
That was actually the first time Rayleigh noticed the inconsistency with his background. At first, he just thought they had been killed by bad luck. But his mother in this life really had trained him quite extensively, and she was no slouch either. So how the hell did she get killed by a mugger along with his father?
Rayleigh figured there would probably be some drama and plot twists and secrets if he looked into this, so he decided to put such an investigation on hold for the time being since he was in the middle of a training montage.
Bone training, as implied, stressed the bones from different angles to cause microfractures that would heal stronger than normal. There were two ways to train the bones. The first was to apply pressure using something like soft wood to strike the bones. Like using the edge of a ruler to chop at the fingers. The second way was to use needles to pierce the bones in some precise locations.
Rayleigh and Clint used the latter since it was more effective. Both were painful since striking the bone hard enough to cause microfractures was like being struck with lightning, while actually piercing the bone, even if only a tiny amount, was like being injected with boiling acid.
Clint had to bite on something when the needles were set into his fingers. Rayleigh used acupuncture needles and a salve that healed the wounds once the needles were removed, so Clint would not end up a bloody mess, but he still didn't like it. The results, however, spoke for themselves. With stronger finger bones, his archery would rise to a higher limit.
Although Clint complained, Rayleigh's empathy felt the burning determination within his friend. If Clint really didn't want to do this, he would end it, but since that wasn't the case, the training continued. Clint's only reprieve was that no other form of painful training could be done on a day bone training was done, so he was free for the rest of the day.
Since Ray had the pocket money, Clint asked, "So what are the plans for today?"
Ray answered in kind, "There's this movie in theaters I want to see. Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. You in?"
"Pet Detective? Alright, why not?"
His hesitation was understandable since Jim Carrey wasn't well known before Ace Ventura.
When not doing training that would make special forces wet themselves, the pair actually did plenty of kids stuff, like going to arcades, seeing movies at the theaters, or watching TV.
1994 was a great year for movies. Ace Ventura, The Mask, Forrest Gump, Maverick, Flintstones, Speed, Shawshank Redemption, Street Fighter, and The Little Rascals, all came out this year.
Even while relaxing and having fun, Rayleigh would use Ren and In at the same time as often as he could to exercise his aura. His Wills would be constantly practicing his developing swordsmanship. He could even have different Wills try different variations and fight each other in his mind to analyze the benefits and downsides of various applications of swordsmanship.
Doing so basically meant inventing his own swordsmanship to fit his Nensaber and Force abilities, but that was exactly his intention. Although he had not unlocked Haki yet, that wasn't a problem since Haki basically added further enhancement to his body, mind, and will, so there was nothing specific he had to make a place for in his swordsmanship for Haki prior to learning it. Haki would enhance what was already there.
Inventing his own swordsmanship was something he'd been working on for years. He stole his Lightsaber teacher's Lightsaber to take her understanding of the Lightsaber forms and create his own form with it while adding the martial forms of the ancient Je'daii that he learned from the Temple of Martial Arts. That was just a prototype, a proof of concept. This would be the real thing.
In order to perfect it though, Rayleigh would need to grasp multiple different sword styles. Thankfully, he had the perfect way to do so. Jacques Duquesne had collected real, used in battle, swords from all over the world. He had multiple Japanese blades that were used throughout the lifetimes of skilled masters. He had swords from China, India, and the Philippines. He had dozens of swords from Europe and the U.K. and his collection of knives was nothing to scoff at either.
Rayleigh fully intended to absorb and integrate everything and use his Wills to master it all to create the best form of swordsmanship for himself.
After watching the movie, the pair had dinner and returned to the Hotel. Jacques returned later that night from his week long errand with a bright smile beneath his mustache that informed the pair of how much money he'd likely made doing whatever it was he did. He seemed so pleased with himself, he gave the pair some personal lessons. Although it was obvious that Rayleigh was more skilled with the sword, Jacques didn't hold back on Clint's lessons since he was his first student and taught him properly whenever he could.
After the break was over, the carnival was back up and running and they started touring the country. They stayed mostly in the east, only going so far past the Mississippi before turning around and returning toward the Atlantic.
Routine for a carny during those days was very consistent. They arrived at an available lot on Wednesday or Thursday and assembled the Roller Coaster, Ferris Wheel, and Big Top tent. Usually, a crane would be rented from around the area to assist with the former. Everything would be set up and the Carnival would start accepting guests on Friday. The Big Top performed two main events a day, at 2 PM and 9 PM, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Other than those times, the carnies were usually in their own booths trying to get the guests to spend money to enter and see their performance up close and personal. They slept in trailers during these days, and on Monday, they packed everything up so that they could be back on the road by Tuesday and would arrive at their next destination by Wednesday or Thursday where the cycle would start all over again. While on the road, they usually spent nights in specific Hotels on the route.
Although Rayleigh could only be considered a part-time carny, he still helped when he could. It didn't take long for the others to notice that he was far stronger than a lad of his size should be, but carnies grew up around the strange and unusual, so they didn't mind as he helped them out when he could.
In exchange for his assistance, many of the performers would teach him a few things. The jugglers and magicians would teach him some tricks while the acrobats would teach him some unique stretching exercises and the animal tamers would let him ride the horses or play with the animals. Most of them were pretty shocked when they found out that the Lion liked him. He could walk directly into its cage and start playing with the massive cat without any problems.
The ringmaster even asked if Rayleigh wanted to do his own show, but Rayleigh declined as he had no reason to do so at the moment.
Months passed by as Rayleigh continued to train everything he could think of in every way he could think of.
Something to be thankful for was that the splitting of Wills became easier with his increased willpower thanks to the Itching Powder training. Splitting a Will first required the same Will to believe two things that were opposite at the same time. He just had to believe, "I don't feel any itchiness," and "I feel itchy," at the same time.
Not that any of it was easy. While coated in itching powder, Rayleigh's brain felt like the static from a TV on the Antenna Input. Since each of his Wills was not separate from him, each Will had the same problem and had to solidify a needle-like focus to penetrate the static and achieve coherent thought. There were times when he felt like he was getting drunk or dizzy from the constant, hated stimulus of the itching powder, but he refused to quit.
Thankfully, the brain developing Force Techniques Rayleigh memorized from the Temple of Force Skills could be used whenever he reached such a stage to safely expand his mental limits. Such expansion could only occur when the limit was reached, so he still had to achieve that terrible state of reaching the limit before he could use the esoteric methods of rewiring his brain with the Force to break past them.
Still, every day of tortuous training bore fruit. Every mind scrambling day of enduring the itching powder was another day closer to raising his brain's cognitive levels.
Like this, two years passed by.
The next chapter will have actual character interactions and a story. Just had to get the swordsmanship montage out of the way. If you didn't understand anything, it's fine. I just like including technical explanations for how things could theoretically work. Other than Force Augment, Heart of the Sword, and One with the Sword, the other details won't be mentioned much in future chapters.