Swift, the Arkend
Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015
This is the second of a two-part series about Silence's legendary arkend, Swift. Last week I wrote about arkends in general. This week I'll discuss Swift in particular.
Swift is a sword wrought of Silence's own sparkstuff, forged by her own hand in Junction City during her youth, with the guidance of the master of her college. Swift is perhaps best understood as an extension of Silence's own existence.
This follows from, and augments, Silence's philosophical conviction that her hands—and specifically her dominant left hand—are the junction points between the "Two Worlds" of Silence herself and Relance. She designed Swift to be an extension of her left hand, and this aesthetic consideration provides a good guideline for understanding the specific design and construction factors of Swift, along with its executive methods.
In a pithier, more dramatic sense, this sword is the culmination of Silence's own left hand as a mêlée weapon.
Swift enjoyed notoriety from before the time of its creation, and possesses a celebrity about it both inside Junction City and throughout Relance. I hesitate to say exactly why—for some of the details are best left to the story proper—but, easily one of the most extraordinary weapons in the present-day world if not all of Relancii history, Swift is famed for its invincibility and unstoppability, and is also a crucial part of the larger legend of its wielder.
Swift's imperative is to win physical altercations. It isn't a vanity sword or a showpiece. You might think of that as being obvious—it is a sword, after all—but on Relance not so. Many weapons exist for show, or are flamboyant without corresponding functional justification. Quite a few swords will excel in a narrow combat paradigm against particular weapons or defensive fittings, but become next to useless in a more general context. Not Swift. Swift is a working weapon, as functional and pragmatic as you will ever find.
This exclusive goal of winning yields an insight as to why Silence chose the arkend above all other sword types (and all other weapons in general): Despite its reputation for trying to be the best of both worlds and failing, the arkend is one of the few swords that earnestly attempts to be all-purpose. Silence wanted a single weapon to cover as many mêlée combat scenarios as possible, and was willing to work with the disadvantages of a multipurpose blade in order to possess that one critical benefit.
Not only is Swift adept at many types of combat, but it excels in penetrative power too. Swift is categorized by the Imperial Sword Mode Indicator as a Class A1-IIA sword—essentially the highest category—known as a "Full Sever," meaning it can cut or penetrate virtually anything, including materials and fields wrought of the Power of the Gods, or even the Power of Junction.
For instance, it can cut the Black Armor (easily, I might add) for which Galavar and his Guard are so renowned. And even though the Black Armor is famously impenetrable, as an example this actually undersells the penetrative power of Swift. Far from being a simple point of pride, this unstoppable penetrative power improves Silence's prospects against some of the most threatening opponents. For her it all comes down to winning fights. Every detail of the sword serves this singular goal in some way.
Swift is also an "immortal" weapon: a sword that does not age, chip, or rust. A sword that seemingly does not even lose its edge, for, although it'll take quite a bit of polish, not once has Silence ever been seen to sharpen it. (It does accumulate detritus from what it cuts into, but this is easily wiped away.) Most weapons wear out with use, but Swift apparently does not. This is not merely rare; it is veritably unheard of. No definitive explanation exists, though speculation certainly abounds. This durability, remarkable in itself though it is, also serves Silence's goal of winning altercations.
Swift is a full-tang sword, meaning the metal structure runs the full length of the weapon, including inside the hilt, which is painstakingly threaded on—the only part of the sword apparently susceptible to aging and damage.
Swift measures 36.8 inches from point to pommel, of which 29.7 inches is naked blade (the hilt being 7.1 inches). This is not unreasonable for an arkend in general, but is very long for a hip-mounted arkend—a feat made possible only due to Silence's substantial 5'11" height and her relatively long legs and high hips compared to her torso length.
In fact it was this consideration that limited the length of her sword, as she would otherwise have built Swift to be 43.2 inches—the derived optimum length for her personal use. Yet she wanted to wear her sword on her hip and not her back, thus necessitating the length limit lest the sword unduly interfere with her mobility, hinder her drawing geometry, or interact with obstacles near the ground. Silence considers this the only noteworthy flaw in Swift's design, and, considering it was deliberate, treats it as a concession to necessity.
Swift weighs 3.1 pounds, including the weighted pommel. Considering that Swift is a Peers arkend—the heaviest type—this is actually quite light for its length. A comparable Peers arkend in steel would weigh 4 pounds. The saved pound makes a significant difference in the arkend's viability and in Silence's wielding stamina.
Composition, Properties, and Appearance
Silence has never divulged Swift's exact composition. It isn't strictly a traditional carbon steel sword, and some of its fabrication methods differed accordingly.1 Swift exhibits opalescence, luster, and the color of turquoise, but does not exhibit magnetic deflection or radiance.2
Whatever its material, Swift weighs only 78 percent of what an arkend its size would ordinarily weigh—accounting for some of the discrepancy between the arkend's poor reputation generally and its unambiguous excellence for Silence.
One thing she has said is that Swift has a superlatanium amalgam tip—without specifying what else is in the amalgam—and that it contains soft iron in its interior, just as some traditional steel swords employ, for suppleness and durability.
Superlatanium, for its part, is a premium material: It doesn't exist naturally in Relance and has never consistently been incorporated into weapons on a large scale due to its rarity as well as due to the incredibly high amounts of time and skill required to smith it.
Swift's distal thickness, materials, and construction methods are such that the sword will flex readily and gorgeously (as such things are measured) under the proper loads, but not to the extent that the sword loses its essential rigidity.
Swift's grip has a misapune pell guard (that is, a skin guard) that conforms to the exact contour of Silence's left hand in each of her six preferred grips. Misapune is a synthetic material that functions like plastic: not fully rigid, but not soft either.3 It possesses "memory" qualities that allow the main grip, the secondary grip, and the four ancillary grips to easily reassert themselves under the pressure and temperature of Silence's hand. This creates a seal with the hand, eliminating slippage—vital given how badly her hands sweat—and reducing skin damage (e.g., rawness, excoriation, abrasion, etc.) resulting from the massive torsional forces passing through the palm of her hand. Silence is adept at switching grips with incredible speed—a skill overlooked among sword admirers but familiar to anybody who has actually trained in the art—and the misapune multi-contoured custom grip is crucial to her efficiency in grip-switching. This all but neutralizes one of the key disadvantages of the arkend.
The sword's name is engraved in Yli script in small letterings just below the bolster, where the blade passes into the hilt. The characters run parallel with the blade and are oriented so as to be legible to the wielder when the sword is held in the left hand, across the front of the body, flare-side-up.
An engraving on the opposite side in that orientation reads "Terminus"; this is a curse that can kill an ordinary mate who should happen to read it directly; therefore the characters are ciphered and small so that one cannot read and understand them mistakenly. Silence can will them to become more obvious both objectively and subjectively—two completely separate forms of numeneering, the former of which is quite rare and heavily stopped.4 This not only serves an offensive use, but protects the weapon when it is out of Silence's grasp.
Swift's arciform duple guard—analogous to the crossguard but configured as an arch rather than a cross, and consisting of double quillons on each side rather than single—is a dangerous addition to the overall package that not only serves its core protective function but permits Silence to completely trap enemy blades in certain instances. The danger extends to her as well, because the possibility exists of an opponent regaining purchase on their weapon while inside the arches. For this reason she sometimes elects to bind the duple guard prior to combat situations where she anticipates the risk to be especially high.
The sword is asymmetrically weighted and structured for the left hand. It is literally impossible to hold Swift right-handed and achieve the proper grip and balance. (Of course, properness aside, it is still possible to wield the weapon right-handed, and Silence does so on occasion for training or demonstrative purposes.) The benefit of this tradeoff is that a handed configuration affords Silence the extreme precision of movement she needs in order to be as good as she is. A neutral design would be coarse enough to reduce her effectiveness. It's the little details like this that account for so much of Silence's superior performance on Swift versus other swords in general—and all of these details were deliberately engineered by Silence herself.
In combat with Swift, Silence tends to put her right hand to one of two uses: support or offense.
The more common role is support. Originally, she simply kept her right hand available for assisting on the sword, and out of the way otherwise except for delivering the occasional grapple, blow, or deflection. After receiving her own suit of the Black Armor, Silence conceived to design a gauntlet buckler, integrated into the armor itself, allowing Silence to intercept blows with, essentially, her own appendage—negating the cumbersomeness and interference of a shield, while reaping most mêlée benefits. (And owing to Silence's incredible reflexes, she also reaps some of the benefits of a large shield, such as deflecting arrows.)
The other role for her right hand is offense. Silence keeps her secondary sword, the long dagger Tetra,5 on her left hip directly beside Swift. If desired she can draw this weapon and wield it in her right hand in parallel with Swift in her left. (She also wields Tetra in her left hand sometimes, in lieu of Swift, and so Tetra is not handed.) This is a much more aggressive presentation, at the expense of significantly reduced defense.
Swift's rigging system (as Silence calls it) is an elaborate craftwork that mounts Swift to Silence's body. This system is a small marvel of engineering in itself. It consists of 196 individual pieces, of which 12 are routinely adjustable and another 51 are occasionally adjustable.
Broadly it can be described thus:
The scabbard is secured to her body with three connections on her left side: upper hip, lower hip, and lower thigh. The main, weight-bearing connection occurs at the lower hip. However, there is no belt around Silence's own body at this connection point, because there is no way to stably secure a belt here.
Instead, the primary weight of the apparatus passes upward through a single joint that connects with two opposing diagonal braces (one anterior, one posterior) and one central vertical brace. The vertical brace connects on its other end to the equivalent upper hip connection joint, while the two diagonal braces connect to the belt itself through secondary joints.
These braces are made of thick, semi-rigid leather and serve to counteract the torsional effects resulting from the weight of the apparatus pulling down only on Silence's left side. All three braces terminate in elastic articulations, allowing the full range of normal motion in this area of the body, including actions such as sitting, bending, and twisting, while still being tight enough to maintain a constant relative body position on all weight-bearing points of contact.
The main load-bearing belt goes around Silence's flanks just above the upper hip (slightly below her true waist), at a position which, on her body, is maximally stable. When she carries a heavy backpack (which also needs to have weight-bearing belts at this position), the sword belt is adjustable upward along her waist with respect to the overall rigging system, so that she can rest the sword belt atop the pack belt—and indeed there are clamps and fasteners built into the system (as well as most of her personal backpacks) for securing the two belts together into one system, to prevent pinching and rotational slippage. This is a routine complication that Silence is quite familiar with implementing.
From the lower hip main connection point, additional braces proceed downward to the lower thigh connection: a double set of main braces (each with double articulations) proceeds directly downward along her hip's outer curve, while a much thinner strap arranged in an opposing double helix wraps downward and around, connecting at the inner upper thigh before terminating in a second connection on the outside of her lower thigh (at the main lower thigh connection joint). This strap helix provides vital security that the upper hip main belt can't supply, and keeps the whole apparatus from bouncing around or wiggling, all with minimal load and strain on her body along its length (which is good since the inner upper thigh is a fairly tender area).
A secondary belt exists at the lower thigh connection, wrapping around the thigh and keeping the sword flush with it, and thus as out of the way as possible.
All three connections are instantly severable with a single but foolproof motion, allowing the scabbard to drop freely if necessary and never otherwise.
All of this is worn outside Silence's underclothing and main clothing. The whole thing can be put on or taken off at just two terminals—a simple one located on the upper hip belt, and a slightly more elaborate one at the thigh belt that connects several different pieces.
The key engineering challenge in the rigging system was that Silence wanted as little impediment as possible to her freedom of movement, despite having a 36-inch sword hanging on her dominant left side. The major complicating factor, other than the sword's bulk, was her bulk, especially with respect to her body's curvature: Even when she was thin Silence had uncommonly wide lower hips, creating a curve that guaranteed the sword would have to drastically depart from her body at the waist, the leg, or both. The former would interfere with the movement of her left hand, while the alternative would interfere with her contact on the ground.
It wasn't possible for the sword to be shunted forward or rearward due to numerous considerations (which I have kindly elected to omit here for the sake of brevity) involving her body curvature, her need for maneuverability, and the logistics of actually drawing the sword—which were heavily constrained by Silence's decision to hang the sword on her left side despite having a left-handed draw. This necessitated a lesser-of-two-evils scenario.
Mockup tests convinced Silence that the easiest concession to make (by far) was to retrain the default movements of her left arm and hang the sword so that it would depart her body at the waist. As a concession to her concession she added a grip on the scabbard for her to grasp her left hand onto, as an alternative to hanging her arm in the modified position.
Silence was quite slender—indeed rawboned—in her late adolescence, and, so, being an adipophile and also knowing of people's tendency toward gradual lifelong weight gain, she presciently anticipated her own heavier body later in life and designed the rigging system to be adjustable so as to accommodate a wider hip and thigh. This paid dividends later on, as the rigging system required no major reconstructions despite her significant weight gains: The belts, braces, and other components that would be affected by her growing size could all be changed out with minimal hassle, and eventually were.
Silence can fight with any sword—even blunt, bent, broken, or cracked ones—and win. But with Swift she can accomplish feats that many would have considered impossible. She is that good.
The sword therefore augments the legend of the master, yet is itself the master's creation, and so augments her legend again. Swift's legend is essentially a chapter in Silence's own.
At the onset of After The Hero, most of Swift's legend in Relance came from Silence's exploits in Junction Outer, the so-called Overshadowed City, and later from Silence's piracy on the Sand Ocean. Once ATH begins, Swift's legend grows further due to Silence's actions in Soda Fountain and later as Captain of the Handsel Band. And from there it grows further still. But as for the specifics, you'll have to read and find out.
Now that I've finally introduced Swift to you properly, I'll be able to go into more detail about the parts of Silence's character that pertain to her sword and swordsmateship. Look for these articles out on the horizon!
1 Swordsmithing Skills
Silence occasionally creates swords and knives as one of her many hobbies, and for educational purposes. These weapons' blades are nearly always traditional steel. She is well-acquainted with the processes and techniques used, even though Swift required a significantly different construction process.
Radiance is a rare property characterized by the emission of heat-bearing light.
Misapune is one of the "Thirty-Seven Godsends" that Silence brought to Gala from Junction City. Its problematic synthesis purely on the basis of her memory was one of the earliest collaborations between Silence and Gregor.
4 Junction Stops
The Power of Junction is heavily "stopped" throughout the world. These stops can be, and often are, quite finely tuned, so as to prevent certain types of numeneering while allowing others. The curse on Swift, which allows the ciphered characters to become legible at will, employs two different kinds of numeneering, depending on whether the characters themselves change or a person’s perception of them changes. Both are widely forbidden, but the former especially so.
Silence's secondary sword, the long dagger Tetra, has a superlatanium core and is so sharp and thin that its blade is invisible to the naked eye without special viewing conditions—so sharp that it can actually cut between worlds, hence its name. Silence once demonstrated this on a live fish, slicing it clean in two, yet the cut was so fine that the fish didn’t actually come apart, and continued to live normally. Silence ordinarily keeps Tetra encased in a "mantle blade" (or "outer blade"), one that is visible and cuts normally, if still extremely well.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!