Chapter 58 Inheriting the Title
Shortly after turning sixteen, there were two things Rayleigh had wanted to do. Earlier today, the first was completed, and he now had a Driver's License and his own trailer. When on the road, he no longer needed to pretend to sleep while sharing Clint's room as he now had his own, much to the jealousy of his friend who, although had also gotten his license, had nothing to use it with.
The second act was standing before Rayleigh now. In the Tavern's Arena, it only cost him 120 Mission Points to fight Neferpitou, and he'd been doing so on a monthly basis. It wasn't that long ago that he had beaten her, but that victory had not been through skill, but overwhelming force. That was not the victory he had been looking for. He intended to defeat her using the same amount of power he had three years ago when he was thirteen, just using his skill.
Though, he could not perfectly replicate that fight. He was still quite a bit taller and stronger than he had been three years ago. His short cut messy brown hair didn't go past his ears and his features had grown sharper and less wild.
As always, the moment she materialized, she looked around curiously before locking eyes with Rayleigh. After determining the threat, she didn't hesitate to saturate her hand with aura, form a claw and pounce forward to rip off his head.
Rayleigh stepped forward with a stomp to meet the catgirl's charge as if to exchange blows. His body seemed to partially condense its explosive force using the aftershock of that stomp and in the instant before they were to exchange injuries, Rayleigh made his move.
Something Rayleigh learned after memorizing and practicing the endless number of techniques from the previous owners of Duquesne's collection was that a series of connected movements like what Rayleigh imprinted was considered a special move. It was actually quite rare for swordsmen to use an endless series of interconnected special moves because it wasn't likely that the end of one move would fit into the stance required to begin another.
Only the best swordsman had special moves that could be used in series to overwhelm opponents, but a single mistake when using such an offense would result in death and even if you succeeded, the strain on the body from using such harsh moves over and over would shorten the martial lifespan of the practitioner, similar to how sports athletes and professional boxers often accumulated too much wear and tear and had to retire. Rayleigh did not have this problem since his tendons had been trained to well beyond human limits and he could use Force Augment to bypass the overuse of his tendons to overcome the problem of using back to back special moves.
The funny part was that these special moves often had grandiose names. If Rayleigh had to give the move he was about to perform a name that matched, it would be, Rising Dragon Breaks the Heavenly Gates.
The instant before Pitou's aura saturated claw passed next to the tip of Rayleigh's Nensaber, Rayleigh's bent elbow jerked down while his wrist snapped up. His torso twisted to the side as his hip swiveled, his knee shifted, and his heel twisted. This series of movements happening together in almost an instant caused the exaggerated effect of twisting Rayleigh's Nensaber sideways to smack the side of Pitou's claw as it approached, diverting it out of the way.
Rayleigh's posture after executing his move was precisely what he needed to be in to perform the follow up move he'd probably name, Heaven Piercing Tiger Claw.
The tip of Rayleigh's Aura Chainsaw-like blade twirled around in a small circle as Rayleigh's elbow continued twisting from down to the side as his parry returned to the form of a stab. Pitou's Nen ability instantly materialized around her to pull her away from the death blow, but the change had been too quick and Rayleigh had taken her ability into account.
On instinct, Pitou's arm was pulled into the Nensaber by her own ability, slicing it off in a sacrifice that literally saved her own neck as she was pulled away from the deadly blow.
Although physically stronger and using Babylon, he kept the strength of Babylon to the same degree he used three years ago and he was using the same level of force and speed as well. The difference was that he now had a plethora of options on how to attack and move and counter from any position.
Pitou looked uncaringly at her severed arm as it landed on the ground for a moment before her eyes locked back onto Rayleigh's and took on the form of a predator's gaze. She was a battle junkie too after all.
Rayleigh calmed his breath. This was the moment of truth. Would Pitou's adaptability overcome his skill? Each Pitou he fought would not recall his previous attempts, but she did remember their fight before Killua's dad killed her, so fighting like he had back then never worked. Every time he worked out a new fighting style, she would get used to it during their fight and overcome it, and this was the best test to locate the holes in his fighting style and fill them in.
In Rayleigh's opinion, due to her ability, Pitou was the perfect test subject. Like a Jedi, her ability to puppet herself allowed her to attack at her maximum potential without taking heed of physical limitations and ignoring physics. Rayleigh's battle style went in the exact opposite direction. So what would win, a style that perfectly used the body or the style that abandoned the body?
Rayleigh quickly stepped forward, his foot leaving cracks in the floor as he performed a rising strike that caught Pitou's incoming claw. The momentum of the claw and force behind her puppetry was not impeded, but the rising strike intercepted and lifted the claw above Rayleigh's head, effectively parrying it and putting him into the perfect position for a follow up downward strike.
Even using her ability to dodge, that downward strike descended like lightning before she could retreat far enough and slashed through her torso and through her ribs. If her puppetry ability had not pulled her back, she would have been bisected.
Pitou's look was a mixture of anger and confusion. Rayleigh's transition from a rising strike to a downward strike seemed to break common sense, but was possible due to the precise setup that the first move had which perfectly led into the second. The power from the rising strike came from the stomp on the ground, but he adjusted his body to turn that power into the act of stretching a rubber band which was then released to convert the upward force directly into an even faster downward force. It was like throwing a rubber ball hard at the ground and seeing it come back up even faster than you threw it.
Although Pitou had a massive wound on her chest, her organs had not been touched and her ability let her ignore the damage she sustained while fighting so the fight would continue until she had bled out or was chopped to pieces.
Pitou's predictable pounces changed to an unpredictable mixture of hit and run tactics, side to side jumps, spinning claw strikes, and trying to gouge his eyeballs out at irregular intervals.
She was basically performing trial and error to look for a form of attack she could use that Rayleigh could not counter.
Scattering dust and performing In to hide her presence didn't work since Rayleigh's Babylon worked as an En and Rayleigh could use Gyō if she tried anything funny.
When she tried to target his legs and knees to cripple him, his sweeping strikes ensured she would either lose her remaining arm or head even if she succeeded, more likely the latter than the former. Her attempts to rip out his heart were dodged with sophisticated footwork and parrying attacks that each turned into a counter and gifted her another wound.
But, she was learning. Besides Kite and the fight before her death, Pitou had not fought anyone that could make her go all out, so her battle experience was severely lacking. Every moment the fight continued was another bit of experience gained. In truth, she did not understand the best way to use her own power. Over the course of the fight, slowly but surely, that problem was being rectified.
A few minutes after the start of the fight, Pitou's fighting style changed. Because pouncing and hit and run tactics didn't work, she stayed close to Rayleigh and went for a series of exchanges. The power of that aura saturated claw could still tear through layers of steel like wet tissue paper, and Rayleigh could not parry those attacks without setting up a series of movements first. Pitou seemed to realize this and decided to see how many special moves Rayleigh could string together to defend himself before messing up.
Pitou slashed at Rayleigh's neck and his body shifted for another rising strike to parry the attack. The strings from Pitou's Nen ability pulled her hand back at the last moment, turning her strike into a feint meaning that Rayleigh's failed parry would leave him open for her real attack. Rayleigh pressed his foot down onto the ground, hard, causing another series of cracks to appear. The force from this action traveled up his body and he used this force to shift a few joints around that twisted his rising strike into a forward slash.
Since Rayleigh's parry turned into an attack, Pitou had to respond in kind. Although the string of her Nen ability pulled her claw back, she had been actively resisting it by forcing her hand down. The moment Rayleigh's parry turned into an attack, the string holding Pitou's claw back released, and the pent up force of her claw shot forward to strike Rayleigh's sword, parrying the attack herself.
Seeing that his attack would be parried, Rayleigh followed through with the slash while shifting his posture in a hundred tiny locations to set himself up for his next move.
Pitou's focus on Rayleigh never wavered. She was trying to predict what attack would originate from what postures, so she could counter attack accordingly. His current posture was one she recognized as the origin of a footwork move he had used before, meaning he was about to step to the side and aim to cut off her arm or neck in the next attack.
In anticipation of his next movement, Pitou bent down and slashed toward the spot she knew he was shifting himself to. At best, she would tear his leg off from the knee, at worst, she would miss, so it was a good gamble.
At least that was what she thought would happen. Her instinct flared and she pulled herself backwards by the strings of her puppet as Rayleigh's Nensaber sliced through the area her head had just been, cutting some of her hairs along the way.
Unfortunately for Pitou, this wasn't the first time a version of her tried this. Rayleigh's self created sword style no longer had the weakness of only allowing a specific series of movements. If each series of motions leading to an act far greater than the sum of its parts could be considered a special move, then the ending stance of each of Rayleigh's special moves was also the starting stance to at least three others. This meant that when he did one move, he had a choice of at least three options to link into his next move. That wasn't all. By stomping hard onto the ground, even if his foot was already on the ground, he could use the force from the stomp to reset his posture to another that was close to it, granting him even more options.
Rayleigh had special moves for attacks, parrying, counters, movements, and a lot of specialized flashy attacks because, why not?
The key was the shifting and exchange of tensed up muscles and relaxed muscles. If a single unused muscle was tensed during the mechanism, it would reduce the effect of the special move by half or more. This meant that the act of shifting from one set of tensed and relaxed muscles with a specific configuration of joint and body orientation to another had to be flawless or it would collapse on top of itself, changing from a heaven piercing mountain of ancient stone to a mountain of loose sand.
The only problem was that, due to the complexity, Rayleigh had not achieved One with the Sword for this style yet. However, that was just a matter of experience and getting used to it. It wouldn't take him much longer to reach that stage.
As for Heart of the Sword, that was actually pretty easy for him to achieve even without cheating. Since he knew how it felt from the Cavalier, he knew what it required. It helped that his Nensaber's Kyber Crystal was already a part of him. He only needed a few months to get a feel of what the sword wanted to do and how to allow his body to do it without his input. This let him set up special moves in an instant and properly select which move to jump to from any previous move. At first, he could only enter that state with his Nensaber, but after figuring out the trick, he could enter that state anytime, even unarmed while making an aura blade finger or using a knife.
Although Rayleigh fought with the same strength, Hatsu, and speed as he did three years ago, his current fight against Pitou was almost considered one sided. It wasn't entirely her fault. Though Rayleigh did make this style for everyday use, he would not deny he had her in mind while crafting it, so it was an Anti-Pitou style he spent years making. If you counted the dozens of times he fought her and the time his Wills had spent together, he could even say that he had spent over forty years crafting this style. He had put everything into this style.
It actually hadn't taken longer than a year for Rayleigh to imprint all the skills and memories of all of Duquesne's collection into his mind. After that, he started branching out. Rayleigh acquired the boxing gloves of some famous retired boxers and used Psychometry on them as the science and mechanics behind professional boxers were not inferior to master swordsmen, so he had much to learn and incorporated the best bits into his style. This meant his style could be used just as easily with fists and knives as it could his Nensaber.
The only thing his style did not have was a name. Giving it a name would be defining it, and at least for now, defining it would limit it.
Pitou stood some distance from Rayleigh's position while panting heavily, wounds dripping with blood. Besides the fact that she was missing an arm, one of her eyes had been cut through and she had multiple cuts along her remaining arm that had almost made it useless.
Rayleigh stood still, but that only made Pitou all the more nervous. A sword cannot cut if it does not move, but a swordsman was one who hides motion in the motionless. Just like the motionless stance before a samurai drew their sword at an unbelievable speed, Rayleigh's stance was a killing strike waiting to happen. A dark cloud waiting for the right time to send down its lightning.
Deciding that there was no other option that had a chance of success, Pitou did the only thing she could do. The catgirl bent forward, taking a sprinter's stance, and heavily dug her feet into the ground. The strings of her Nen ability pulled her back as she tensed her muscles to push forward, against her ability. The ground cracked beneath her feet and hand as her clawed toes and fingers dug into the ground to keep her position as she used every muscle to press herself forward. Then the force of her ability cut itself from her body. In an instant, far faster than the blink of an eye, she was launched forward, aiming for a simultaneous strike. Rayleigh would not be able to dodge or parry her at this speed, and even if he managed to counter attack, she possessed an ability she could use to put herself back together even if she was bisected, so going for an exchange of lethal blows would still result in her own victory.
It might have worked if this was the first time she'd done this very thing. Rayleigh had died to this attack many times. Using it accumulated more pressure in her muscles than her body could withstand and even if she survived, her body tore itself apart in this attack and would take her hours to repair using her ability if the fight hadn't ended at that point.
Pitou was mistaken when she thought Rayleigh was unable to dodge. It was true that he could not move his body out of the way of her launch, but he didn't need to. He just had to move his vitals outside of the trajectory of her attack. A half step, a slight twist, and a tiny bend backward. That's all it took to avoid an attack that surpassed the speed of a bullet and arrived faster than the sound of the strike. Her claw still drew a deep line across his chest and carved through his rib cage, but such a wound was far from fatal. This half-step dodge was accompanied by a single upward slash, and Pitou's head and remaining arm were separated from her body, spinning in the air. Rayleigh also used this moment to jump and use Shatterpoint and Dark Transfer on the nen puppeteer to destroy it before it became a post-mortem Nen ability that turned Pitou into a zombie and tripled her stats. Sure, that only lasted for a few seconds after her death, but it had killed him twice in the past and he wasn't sure he could beat zombie Pitou with just the stats he had three years ago.
A flash of light whited out the stage, and Rayleigh had changed from his sixteen year old form back into his Inside the Tavern twenty one year old form. The fight was over. He had won.
Rayleigh didn't exit the Arena right away, but sat down and began to recollect on the fight. He allowed himself a brief smile. That unpredictable cat girl was not an easy opponent, despite how the fight looked from the outside. With just the defenses he had three years ago, she was capable of killing him in a single hit, while she could survive anything but decapitation and even then, he still had to watch out for the stage two zombie fight afterward. He felt like a video game speed runner who had just successfully gotten a world record run. Making it look easy did not mean it was easy.
He was tempted to try Hisoka, but his cost had risen in the last couple of years, indicating he was still getting stronger. Though, he wasn't the only one.
Plenty of craziness occurred while he was creating his technique. The MCs of the Warrior World and Ninja World both somehow got massive power ups which made them stronger than the Players, allowing them to fight some random God Tier Opponents that popped up.
In the Warrior World, a green-skinned demon king was unleashed and tried to kill all the world's martial artists, using records from the World Martial Arts Tournaments. Thankfully, all the Players were spared as they only fought wearing costumes, so those records could not have been used by the demon forces to locate and ambush them. Plenty of Players grouped together to fight off the children of the Demon King and many won, but many had to retreat as well before Goku, the Warrior World MC defeated the Demon King with a headbutt.
In the Ninja World, something similar happened. Some dead guys were brought back to life and with an army of ninja monsters, tried to take over the world or something. All the Ninja Players had fun fighting in the war, before they got owned by the immortal zombies from the past and had to retreat or work together to seal them. The Players who were good at seals became really popular at that time. Then the strongest dead ninja from the past came back, was brought back to life, turned into a god, and then, somehow, turned into a goddess. It was a very confusing explanation. The two MCs of the Ninja World only won because they received, yet another powerup at the last moment, causing all the Players to smash their heads against a wall, complaining that all their training had been pointless.
And just to top it off, in the Wizard World, the big bad of Britain was also brought back to life and reformed a force of terrorists that the Wizard MC and the Players fought against. Plenty of Players thought little of this big bad since he didn't seem like much compared to the big bads of other worlds. Unsurprisingly, they tried to fight him. Ninja Lord, someone Rayleigh suspected of being a 20 Talent Ninja Player, got one shotted by the Wizard Big Bad's Instant Death Spell. Luckily for him, he saved a lot of Mission Points and was able to use them to keep most of his strength when he made his new character.
One of the biggest calamities occurred in the Hunter World. The voyage to the Dark Continent went as well as could be expected. A few Players and Hunters stayed to explore, train, and grow stronger. The rest ran away back to the fish bowl. The problem was that the guys maintaining the Fish Bowl had a rule. If Humans left and came back, they had to bring something they encountered with them back into the fish bowl. What they were forced to bring back was a music sheet that had been played by some unfriendly fellows they encountered on the Dark Continent. This should not have been so bad, since the sheet should have been locked away, with all the other 'gifts' previous voyages had been forced to bring back. The problem was that someone called Gyro stole the sheet. He created an organization that made themselves deaf and learned to play the music and basically weaponized it. Millions died and the world looked like it was going to be destroyed. According to the Players, Gon somehow saved the day. Rayleigh was tempted to return and ask how that worked, But Gon had already returned to the Dark Continent with his dad, so that reunion would have to wait.
Rayleigh was quite happy to have avoided that. According to the Players, the Music didn't even sound abnormal and any form of danger detection didn't detect it. It could be playing in the background speakers of a mall and you would not notice until it was too late. Those who heard the music were basically cursed to die. Players had avoided it by leaving the world since the curse did not seem to affect them when out of the Hunter World, but if those who heard it returned to the Hunter World, either something bad would happen or something would materialize and kill them. They had no choice but to stay away until they were strong enough to survive the curse.
The Jedi Players didn't get caught up in any horrors, but the Galaxy was getting more and more violent and more and more people were doing ridiculous and stupid things, as if stupidity was a contagion and spreading from system to system.
The only Players having a blast were the Pirate Players. Most had either teamed up or formed their own crews after finishing their training. Each was making a name for themselves and heading for a special area of their world that the Players called, the High Level Area. It was filled with strong guys, jerks that needed a whooping, treasures, and adventure.
After going over the fight and deciding on a few adjustments, Rayleigh got up and left the Arena to head out of the Tavern. He always aimed to physically enter so he could eat Lunch in the Tavern and this time was no exception, so after exiting, he found himself in an empty space behind a tent at the edge of the carnival.
Physically, Rayleigh had not changed too much in the three years since he got here other than getting taller. Although he could easily lift a car, his muscles were not the bulky masses one might see on a bodybuilder. The reason was that Rayleigh had specifically used the Marine Six techniques training to develop the kind of muscle that could harden when tensed, so his muscles were not massive balloons, but dense cables. One of the reasons he was able to build such muscles was the highly nutritious food he ate on a daily basis from the Tavern. His body was built with high quality materials.
And although he was not bulky, he wasn't small either. It had reached the point where he didn't need to show his ID to get into an R-Rated movie since he could easily pass for someone over 18 even if he was just 16.
In addition to the fact that he turned sixteen recently, today was also a big day for his brother in all but blood Clint Barton. Today was the day that Clint would be doing an Act of his own in the Big Top. Clint had finished the first set of training for the Marine's Six Techniques and empathetically declined to learn the advanced set. Clint had also finished learning what he could under Duquesne and went entirely under Buck Chisholm's tutelage to learn everything he could about archery from the man who called himself Trickshot.
That left Rayleigh as Swordsman's only student, but Duquesne had been growing more and more frustrated. He felt both aggrieved from losing his student to Trickshot and envious of Rayleigh's talent, even though Rayleigh hid most of his skill from the sword instructor. Probably the biggest change though was the fact that neither Rayleigh nor Clint was a child anymore. Duquesne liked children, especially ones that looked up to him with admiration and reverence. Teens that abandoned him and were more talented than he was? Less so.
Duquesne didn't have his tent open today, so he would not be performing for a small crowd in his tent and was not even at the circus. He would be returning later, so Rayleigh didn't look for him. That made the fact that Duquesne walked right up to him a bit odd.
When Jacques spotted Rayleigh, he smiled and approached, "Ah, my young sword. There is something I must ask." He was sweating a lot, more so than normal for a summer's day considering the cool northern breeze. Rayleigh's empathy had him as a train wreck, but he didn't intend to ask why. It wasn't his business.
Jacques continued, "My payments for your tutelage for the next three months. You see, I require them in advance. In exchange, I will give you more lessons for the next three months, and in August, I will take you to the Under 18 World Fencing Tournament in France."
Over the last few years, Clint and Rayleigh had been making a name for themselves by participating in competitions in their respective fields. Rayleigh entered and won every competition that involved a sword while Clint won every competition that used a bow. Of course, said competitions were for those under a specific age.
Although the deal looked good on paper, Rayleigh could only reply, "I'm sorry, but I can't do that. I don't have the money, my employer does. You know from the contract you signed that the terms can't be changed. You can call them and try to break the contract and renew the terms, but you know how those kinds of people feel about breaking contracts."
At the last mention, Rayleigh's empathy detected a distinct sense of fear within the Swordsman. Yes, Duquesne knew about Book worm's family and the repercussions of asking for such a thing. From Swordsman, Rayleigh eventually learned out that Book worm's last name and family was called Manfredi, a crime family originating from Sicily led by a crime boss called Silvermane. Though Swordsman often did jobs for criminals, it was usually small time punks with decent connections, not intercontinental generation spanning criminal empires.
Duquesne took a step back and gave a fake smile, "Not to worry then, I'll deal with it on my own."
Rayleigh sighed and shook his head as his sword instructor walked away. Using the Force and touching the Swordsman's mind, Rayleigh could guess what happened with some accuracy.
Duquesne had three hobbies. Practicing the sword. Collecting historic swords. And gambling. From what Rayleigh felt, someone must have brought out a nice sword during a gamble, forcing Duquesne to bet more than he had, and after losing, putting him in a tight spot.
Rayleigh had no intention of helping him since that wouldn't teach the man anything.
Later that night, Rayleigh sat among the crowd as the Big Top Performance commenced. Every five months the performers would change up their routines, otherwise, those who saw the circus last year would have no reason to come again. Because of this, the wonder and amazement of the audience were always clear in the air.
"For our next performance, I give you the world debut of Hawkeye! The World's Greatest Archer!"
A round of applause rolled through the audience as Clint entered the tent in a purple costume that took its inspiration from Swordsman's own. Rayleigh was surprised that the ringmaster would give Clint such a title since he was directly saying that Clint was better than Trickshot, Buck Chisholm. But such a thing would not have gone through without Buck's approval. Rayleigh wondered if it was actually Buck's idea. Out with the old, in with the new.
Surprising just about everyone, although Clint's act came right after Buck's, the feats of Hawkeye certainly seemed more marvelous than the performance of Trickshot. Hawkeye added two distinct features to his act that made it better than Trickshot's overall. First, was distance. Although Trickshot never missed, he wasn't that far from his targets. Every arrow fired by Hawkeye was shot much further yet struck its target with great accuracy. He even climbed the pole used by the Tightrope walkers and fired a flaming arrow at a target on the opposite side pole, all the way across the big top, almost making it look like the flaming arrow would catch the bit top tent on fire. The second add-on of his act was the special arrows he had. He fired an arrow at a target, but then the arrow would pop up into the air and Clint would fire another arrow at the flying arrow he just fired.
It was different, impressive, and quite flashy overall, so a wonderful show for everyone to see.
Swordsman's act was last and though he seemed irritated, he did not falter in his show and dazzled the audience.
As a part of his duties as a part time carny, Rayleigh helped clean up the litter in the big top after the main event with a few others once the big top was empty. After finishing up, Rayleigh headed over to Clint's trailer to congratulate him on an excellent performance, but the almost eighteen year old archer wasn't there.
Rayleigh used Clairvoyance to look around and find him but spotted something he certainly did not expect to see.
Arriving quicker than one would think possible, Rayleigh saw Clint standing before Jacques. The latter had a duffle bag that had cash poking out from the top and was walking out of the ringmaster's trailer. An open safe could be seen within.
Clint confronted him and said, "If you put it back, we can go back as if nothing ever happened."
Jacques sneered and replied, "And if you keep your mouth shut, no one will have to know."
"But, you can't steal from the ringmaster! That money belongs to the circus!"
"Shut up! The money's rightfully mine! I'm the star of this show. Without me, they'd have gone broke long ago! Now are you going to step aside, or betray me again?"
"No, I won't. You can't do this."
Jacques had a habit of keeping his sword on his waist at all times in the Circus, even when not performing, so it was no surprise to see it on him even now. Clint was however quite surprised to see him draw his sword.
Pointing it at Clint, he said, "If you will not stand with me, then you are a fool. Stand aside, or die."
Clint couldn't move. He couldn't believe the man who saved him from his abusive foster father, his teacher, mentor, and idol could steal from and betray the whole circus.
From what Rayleigh observed with Clairvoyance, Jacques had broken into the Ringmaster's safe and emptied it of a month's worth of money from ticket sales of the Big Top's show. It was quite a bit of money that the Ringmaster deposited at a bank at the end of every month.
There had been a time in the past when something similar happened. Losing a month's worth of funds was devastating for the circus. It was like cutting off a leg, and if they didn't perform with the missing leg, they'd lose even more. It took months to recover from that, and seeing something that could cause the same thing to happen once more was more than Clint could take, especially when he saw the one who would be causing it.
Seeing his former protégé still blocking him from leaving, Jacques raised his sword in anger and slashed down.
Only for the sword to be blocked by a pocket knife in a firm reverse grip in Rayleigh's hand.
Clint had closed his eyes at the incoming attack, so he was not as surprised when he opened them and saw Ray in front of him, but Jacques hadn't blinked, and couldn't believe that Rayleigh had somehow appeared before him.
Without turning his back, Rayleigh said, "Go get the Ringmaster, I'll hold him here." Rayleigh used a bit of Force Persuasion to prevent Clint from arguing, sending the young archer off to get the others. When they returned and saw Jacques with a bag of stolen money in his hand, he wouldn't be able to escape.
Jacques did not exchange words with Rayleigh. They both had a blade in hand. Jacques had his beloved ancestor's Cavalier's Sword while Rayleigh had a pocket knife that Jacques had gifted him for his birthday. It was a proper knife, not some cheap piece of machine printed metal, but a right and true hand forged blade. Since both had a weapon in hand, they did not need words to speak, they spoke with their blades.
Jacques slashed three times in quick succession. He did not aim to kill, just to incapacitate. After things had reached this point, he could only take the money and run, but he would not be able to get away with such a large bag without removing his pursuers first.
Each slash was deflected with a smooth and precise parry. Countering a sword with a knife was easier than it looked as long as you keep yourself close, but this was something Swordsman was well aware of and kept his distance from Rayleigh. His problem was that even at his own preferred distance, Rayleigh was almost lazily defending himself without difficulties.
Jacques tried to outmaneuver Rayleigh and slice his legs or arms, but some quick footwork and a steady hand had become an impassable wall.
After a few more attacks, Swordsman's eyes narrowed. He noticed something. It was the clear look in his student's eye. "No. How? How can you have achieved this?!"
Rayleigh shook his head. Heart of the Sword was his own name for this state, but he knew that Jacques had been searching for it all his life. Rayleigh answered the question with a question of his own. "Do you know why you have yet to reach this state? All your life, you thought you were missing something. So you scour the world for different swords, mastering them with your talent, hoping that in mastering them, you will find out what you are missing." That was the reason for Jacques' obsession with swords. If he found the one that gave him what he was missing, it would be worth it no matter how much it cost him.
Rayleigh continued, "The truth is not that you are missing something, but you possess two things that are standing in your way. The first is your pride. You have never lost a match in your entire life. This has deafened you to the voice of your sword. In your heart, if you are the best, you don't need to listen to anyone or anything. The second is your past. Your actions while young brought down your entire family. You try to live up to the legend of your ancestor by exceeding him in skill, but you do this because you feel you dishonored that same ancestor by destroying his legacy."
Jacques appreciated being psychoanalyzed by a sixteen year old as much as the next adult and shouted, "What do you know?! You say I never lose, but I lost everything!" He swung his sword for a killing blow, but again, it was almost lazily deflected. He swung again and again, trying every trick he knew, but his perfect form using the sword he was most familiar with came to nothing at the end of Rayleigh's knife.
The sound of footsteps running in their direction could be heard, so Rayleigh decided to finish up. Rayleigh stated, "As thanks for all you have done for me, I shall strip from you that which has stood in your way all these years. Good luck, and goodbye."
Although Rayleigh's Nensaber could be seen by normal folk due to the effect of the living Kyber crystal, Rayleigh's normal aura was invisible. This meant that when Rayleigh used Shū on his knife, Jacques was unable to see it coming as Rayleigh slashed down.
Since he didn't see the aura, Jacques poorly defended himself. The aura enhanced knife cut through the Cavalier's Sword and slashed through Jacques' chest. The movement was smooth, clean, and witnessed by all the carnies running over to the area.
Unlike people with power systems, when a normal person received such damage, it was normal for their body to go into shock, freeze up, and pass out. Rayleigh may have used a bit of the Force to ensure the latter, so Jacques fell down unconscious next to the bag of money he was holding as everyone ran over.
Clint had already explained what happened, and seeing the empty safe and Jacques lying there with the money, they didn't need further proof and directly called the police.
Statements were taken and the unconscious Swordsman was hauled off to a hospital.
After everything calmed down, Rayleigh found Clint and said, "I know it's a little late now, but congratulations on your act."
Clint smiled weakly, "Thanks. It means a lot. But I'm still reeling here. I can't believe this. I mean, I know he had worked with a lot of shady characters. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that he's stolen before. It's just, I never imagined him stealing from us. We're his family. Do you think it was Jacques who stole from the ringmaster the last time?"
Rayleigh shrugged. "Maybe. I don't know. But he didn't this time, and it's thanks to you. I heard you two talking before I got there. You stood up to him when you could've turned away."
Clint shook his head. "I've seen what happens when the circus loses its money. Even if we were okay, I didn't want to see that again."
Ray nodded, "Everyone has to live with the choices they've made. You and Jacques made choices tonight you'll both live with for the rest of your lives. I suspect you'll have an easier time living with it than Jacques will."
Clint smiled fondly for a moment before looking worried, "What do you think will happen to Jacques?"
"No idea. Community service? He didn't actually get away with stealing anything and I cut him pretty good. Ringmaster may not even press charges."
That idea was shattered the next day when they heard from the circus ringmaster that Jacques was taken away by the Feds. Apparently, they'd been looking for him for a while. His fingerprints matched a number of crimes they'd been looking into for a number of years.
Since he would not be returning any time soon, Rayleigh offered to take care of the man's sword collection. Swords rust if poorly stored, so he needed to place them in special containers and put them into long term storage. He'd write a letter to Jacques telling him that his stuff would be fine when he got out. Though they fought, Rayleigh didn't have any hard feelings about it.
Although the ringmaster accepted Rayleigh's offer, that wasn't the reason he came to tell them about Jacques' fate.
"Listen, we have a problem. Every poster we have shows our Main Event including a Swordsman. Every ticket we've sold for the Main Event this weekend was for a show including a Swordsman. Without a Swordsman, we may have to refund a lot of customers, and you are the only one who fits the bill."
Rayleigh gave a blank stare to the ringmaster while Clint sported a shit-eating grin from the side. Everyone knew how strong and talented Rayleigh was, and the Ringmaster had been trying to get Rayleigh to do an act of his own for a while now to no avail.
The ringmaster was a balding red headed man with freckles, and no one would feel comfortable seeing a middle aged balding ginger pouting at you.
Rayleigh relented with a sigh, "Fine."
The ringmaster's pout changed to a delighted smile, "Yes! Thank you. Will you do the same performance as Jacques?"
Rayleigh shook his head, "No. I have a better idea."
Later that night, after Clint finished his act, the ringmaster called out to the audience, "And for our final act of the day, we have yet another premiere event, a never before seen act none of you will ever forget. First, come back out Hawkeye and Trickshot."
The two archers came out and a training dummy was brought to the center of the stage. The two archers then picked a spot and fired some arrows at the training dummy's head. It was then that a massive curtain was brought out and strung halfway between the dummy and the archers. Everyone seated around the ring could easily see both sides of the curtain, but those up close would not be able to see around it.
That was when Rayleigh entered the stage. He didn't have a uniform, so he wore a light blue vest and held one of the many swords from Jacques' collection.
Rayleigh pushed aside the training dummy and stood in the exact spot the dummy had stood before.
The ringmaster called out, "Many of you have seen our former Swordsman cut an arrow with his sword. I'm sure some of you may even think that such a thing is easy. He could clearly see when the arrow was released and see where it was aimed. You must think that cutting an arrow with a sword must not be difficult at all. Well, what about now? In a moment, not one, but both of our expert archers will draw and fire their bows where they know our new Swordsman's head will be. And they will do so through this curtain! Each of you can see our archers and our new Swordsman, but our new Swordsman can not see our archers. He will not be able to see where they are shooting from or when they release their arrow. So, will he survive?! Will our newest Swordsman block, not one, but two arrows fired from behind his sight? Well, let's find out!"
The audience had gone completely silent. The curtain was only a couple of feet from Rayleigh's position. The first notice of the arrow would only come after the arrow reached the curtain. Was it even possible to stop an arrow in that small timeframe?
Rayleigh relaxed most of his body and set himself in a stance while tightening certain muscles. Time drew out like a blade. Both archers had their bows drawn, but neither had fired yet. The audience was afraid to blink. Would they both fire at the same time? Would they fire one after another? Would they miss? What if they didn't? Was it possible to actually deflect an arrow like this? Would this new Swordsman die?
Clint's arrow was released first. The twang of the bow was silent to most but Rayleigh heard it well enough. It only took a few sets of muscles to quickly flick his sword to the side. The sword moved in slow motion compared to the arrow that had just pierced the curtain, but as the arrow passed by the sword, the flick had just reached it, snapping the arrow and pushing it to the side. Rayleigh already knew where Trickshot was based on where Hawkeye had fired from and moved his sword back and right into the path of the next arrow that had been fired almost directly after the first. This arrow was cleanly cut in two.
The audience roared and applause thundered. Over the audience, the ringmaster shouted into his mic, "And there you have it, the world premiere you will never forget. I give you, Swordsman, the World's Fastest Blade!"
And that is how you get a title in Marvel. Some of Jacques' lines were taken directly from the comic, so don't mind them. Next chapter will finish up in the MCU and then we're off to One Piece.
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