Regarding An Fei’s current problem of lacking the capability of handling both the consumption and processing of <Calligraphy>, <Heavenly Talisman>, and the <Steps of Underlying Shadow>, Xilong’s approach was rather crude but effective.
Instead of stepping upon the slow and painstakingly long path of gradually tempering the young girl’s body and soul until it matched the qualifications of the martial arts techniques, the scarlet dragon opted for her to chance upon the optimal shortcut – to call upon their Constructs instead of the actual technique itself.
The capability of summoning the Construct of a martial arts technique required a profound understanding of the technique’s principles and fundamental basis of logic. The more the practitioner understood the origins of the martial arts technique and its occurring phenomena, the more they could reduce the consumption of spiritual essence or divine essence per iteration of the technique.
To understand the origins and the underlying Construct of a martial arts techniques, there were indeed numerous approaches one could take, but only two were considerably the most important.
The first was to carefully sift through the original notes of the technique’s creator until they had completely absorbed the underlying intentions and concept, and the second was to constantly experiment with the technique until they grasped the initial concepts through intuition.
…and Xilong preferred the second method, for An Fei did not have enough time to read through and decipher the entire <Calligraphy>, <Heavenly Talisman>, and <Shadow Dance> when not even it could accomplish such a feat as a fully-fledged Immortal Being.
The heavenly dragon had no time to properly train An Fei, nor did An Fei herself have enough time given the speed at how her troubles caught up to her.
“The first purpose of a shadow is to mimic! Mimic the personality, habits, actions, and even the original consciousness of the target! Merge into their field of influence as to prevent their detection and interference!”
As Xilong’s words drifted into her ear, An Fei’s body abruptly twisted into a counterclockwise turn, her toes lightly pressed against the ground to minimize the change in her body’s gravity. As her legs paused into a half-crouch after displacing all of the momentum behind the fan’s assault, the young girl dispersed a hiss of pain from her lips.
On the edge of her right shin, lay a faint purple bruise.
The fan had pierced through the protection provided by the <Steps of Underlying Shadow> as well as clothing to deliver a full strike onto her body. Dull waves of pain rushed through her shin, thigh, and calves, causing An Fei to nearly topple onto the ground with a pair of watery eyes.
“However, replicating the target’s personality and consciousness to blend into their field of influence is a slow and delicate process! Not only would you require constant observation beforehand to achieve a worthy replication, but the spiritual essence consumed to bypass such tedious processes is far too inefficient! Say, what exactly is the shadow that follows?”
The clasps of the jade fan swooped down, and a young girl’s surprised shriek of pain echoed through the Archives of Time. Thin particles of golden light dissipated from An Fei’s surroundings, and her countenance was a miserable wreck.
“A shadow can be described as the region in which light is obstructed relative to its surroundings. It can also be described as the subconsciousness of living beings – as the dormant processes of the soul. However, when even inanimate objects that are sentient but soulless possess a shadow, which definition is to be applied?”
The jaded fan pitched into a steep nosedive, heading directly towards An Fei’s exposed ankles. Suppressing a yelp, the young girl rolled to her right, tossing a sphere of golden light towards the incoming fan.
She didn’t manifest the spiritual essence by expressing it through her meridians, but instead forcibly willed it to extrude from her body.
Imagining the translucent golden sphere to explode upon contact with the jade fan, An Fei hurled it whilst maintaining her roll in the opposite direction.
The golden sphere exploded upon contact, scattering countless particles of dissipated spiritual essence across the Archive of Time. Nonetheless, the fan’s momentum was unstoppable, and its nosedive was hardly interrupted by the faint attempt of resistance from An Fei.
The young girl was simply thankful that she wasn’t rapped on the back of her ankles…
“Can a shadow be described as an existence that doesn’t exist? Or is it an existence that is not meant to exist? If either is the case, then what is an object’s shadow?”
“Objects have shadows, people have shadows, animals have shadows, everything within the perceivable world has a shadow when there is light. Without the presence of light, the existence of a shadow is indeterminate. Do shadows exist within the pure night?”
“The field of influence of any object, living or inanimate, does not change even if the world transitions from day to night. That being said – shadows must indeed exist, no? But then, if shadows are indeterminate during an entire half of its existence, then what are they exactly?”
Peng! Peng! Peng!
“Nobody knows save for the Forefather what exactly a shadow is actually comprised of. However, logical reasoning can be implied to estimate the primary attribute of a shadow.”
The attacks of the fan increased in intensity as the scarlet dragon continued speaking, and the number of bruises on An Fei’s limbs began to increase.
The <Steps of Underlying Shadow> simply could not contend with the pervading force contained within the fan’s attacks, and all of its meagre protection was stripped in a mere instant.
But while her arms and legs were rather sore, An Fei could gradually sense that the heavenly dragon was beginning to mention the core intention behind the martial arts technique.
“Plants, animals, objects, mortal worlds and natural phenomena themselves – everything is an aspect of creation. And with each and every creation, the implementation of time will generate decay. Their Constructs may remain intact, yet all other ‘extraneous’ elements and attributes gradually decay over time – no matter if one is a mortal or Immortal. The sole exception is their shadow, which remains consistent to its purpose – to highlight their existence.”
“Shadows do not decay over time. Their physical shapes may change depending on the objects they highlight, but the shadow itself remains true to its Construct. And unless the concept of a shadow is none but the Construct of itself, such phenomenon or property is impossible.”
“Then how is a shadow constructed? Ambiguous concepts that pertain to all modes of creation do not qualify as a Construct – there must exist some specific quandary that separates itself from all other defined concepts of the universe. What aspect of the objects that it mirrors does a shadow utilize as the basis for its Construct?”
“The soul? The connection between the object and the mortal world – commonly known as light? Or is it the natural laws that classify living and inanimate existences as such?”
“If the shadow is the highlight that signifies an existence and its overall purpose, then where is the boundary line between creation and nihility? For a shadow to decay but not possess any specific Construct to support its existence, where does it originate from?”
Peng! Peng! Hong!
The fan struck the crystalline ground twice, but failed to launch its third attack. An Fei who had finished her barrel roll towards her sides curled into a tight ball with both arms covering the back of her head, awaiting the blow that never arrived.
When she gathered the courage to open her eyes, the young girl found a certain jade fan separated a mere five centimeters from the bridge of her soft nose. The jade clasps reflected their menacing glint onto An Fei’s eyes, but seemed unable to move towards her, only away.
The world before her seemed to have cracked – faint splinters and spiderwebs of indistinct color scattered from the center of the extended clasps of the fan, and extended towards the young girl’s sides. The cracks seemed to have isolated her from the world, from all creation.
An Fei raised her index finger to poke at the pair of jade clasps, only for the fan to sharply recoil away as though she had delivered a powerful strike onto its fine structure. The young girl ignited her confidence and took a step forward, watching with amazement and a hint of excitement as she watched additional cracks in the world manifest and propagate before her body with each step she took.
“How do you feel? What conclusion have you arrived at?”
The gentle voice of the heavenly dragon slowly brought An Fei back to her senses. The young girl rubbed at the base of her chin, humming with an indistinct sound.
“You mentioned something about how shadows were able to exist independently outside of a specific Construct, as well as the boundary line between creation and nihility,” An Fei murmured with an indistinct tone.
“Isn’t the boundary line between creation and nihility the void? The void is synonymous with both creation and destruction – and is an integral part in both. If shadows are able to exist independently without Constructs… wouldn’t they be mirrored identities stored within the void? The void doesn’t necessarily need a Construct, since it is the state that all creation eventually decays into – this essentially implies that shadows themselves are constituents of the Construct defining duplicity?”
An appreciative sigh escaped the heavenly dragon’s teeth, and Xilong nodded its invisible head in appreciation.
“If you were to realize that much, surely you would have grasped the Construct for <Steps of Underlying Shadow>. This would guard you against unintentional usage of <Calligraphy> – but did you have to select such difficult martial arts techniques?”