Chapter 11:

The Outer Sect I - "Long Way From Home"

Destiny Marine

Much of Arcadia consisted of green rolling fields that eventually touched the sky at the horizon. Meadows gave way to forests and forests gave way to large farms filled with corn, bean, and squash. Harvest time was just around the corner, the presumably biggest event of the year for agriculture (unless planting was - Isaac was a miner, not a farmer). Arcadia was far bigger than Isaac expected, too. When he looked at Gregory’s map of Empyrea, Arcadia existed in just a tiny corner of it, with only enough space for the cities of Narragansett and Acushnet to be marked off. But traveling by train took several hours to cross just a portion of the country. Not that Isaac minded. The world really did exist beyond his small town; he never expected there to be so much of it.

His traveling companion fell asleep around five minutes after they departed Patuxet. The quiet gave Isaac time to think, and the rural countryside was as good of a medium as any for thinking. After everything that happened these past few days, he needed it. In the middle of the trip, Isaac went to the bathroom to redress his bandages. After unwrapping his head, he found his face essentially healed. In confusion, he touched his nose - only a slight dull pain remained. Well, that and angry purple bruising, but at least it was straight again. Same for his arms, which were significantly less burned than a few hours ago.

I heard rumors that cultivators had accelerated healing, but this is ridiculous.

Still, he wasn’t going to complain about it, so he returned to his seat. The train ride went on and Isaac never got bored of looking out the window. It wasn't as quiet as before, however - Reed turned out to be a fitful sleeper. Every so often she mumbled something, occasionally swearing, and she continually tossed and turned in her seat. After stopping at the last station before Narragansett, the sudden jolt of the train chugging along again woke Reed from her slumber.

“How you feeling?” she asked as she rubbed her eyes and stretched her small frame across the seat.

“A lot better. I can’t believe I healed this fast.”

“Well, all you’ve been doing this train ride has been breathing and thinking,” Reed explained. “That’s the essentials of cultivation. Breathing and shit like that. Cycle out the impurities and all that jazz.”

The first signs of urban sprawl appeared outside their window. Isaac knew that these were just the suburbs of the capital, but already he felt ensconced by urban living. The train rumbled past tenement houses far taller and wider than Isaac’s in Patuxet; behind them stood rows of factories belching smoke into the sky. Isaac expected to see more horse-drawn carriages than in Patuxet, but much to his surprise, there were very few of them. The automobile had replaced the horse in these parts, the sleek Zhanghai designs moving up and down paved roads.

“What’d ya think of my technique?” Reed asked, resting her hands behind her head.

Isaac recalled the ear-splitting sound wave that knocked Symanski out cold. Even Isaac’s teeth rattled during it, and he didn’t receive a direct hit. “It sure was something. Did the Navy teach it to you?”

“Nah, this is a family technique. They say cultivation techniques can be passed through bloodlines, but I don’t trust modern science.” She ran a hand along the leather scabbard that rested in the seat next to her. “The members of my family all possess sound-based powers. I had a real bitch of a great aunt who could slap her body with spoons and produce sound waves powerful enough to knock over half a city. But that’s lame, Isaac. Swords are a lot cooler than spoons. And plus, the sword technique is my own.”

“Your own?”

Reed nodded. “Let me be your first teacher in this wonderful prison known as cultivation. Everybody who unlocks the Rddhi gets their own Foundational Technique to start off with. They can be similar and overlapping - such as all the basic fireball or my family having sound powers - but sometimes you’re such a badass that you get one unique to yourself.” She jabbed a thumb proudly at herself. “I call mine the |Typhoon of Steel|”.

Look, I’m not gonna admit that she’s a badass, but the technique did save me.

“Oh, so I have my own Foundational Technique?” Isaac looked down at his two hands. “My fists glowed and I could punch harder. The |Eightfold Fist|.” He blinked and wiped his face. "'s like I knew the name already."

Reed snapped her fingers. "The just comes to you, you know what I mean? The brain's the only organ in the body to name itself, and your Foundational Technique works the same way. And wow, so you're like a bare-fisted monk." Her tone was the usual dull, but Isaac didn’t detect a hint of mockery in it. “Not as badass as me, but still pretty badass.”

“Do you know why I got this technique?”

“Who knows? Maybe it was just from the movie playing in the background.” She tapped her temple. “Media warps our perception of ourselves far more than you think, you know?”

She had a point - Isaac could name at least five action stars whom Reed mimicked her personality off of. And if he really got his technique just from a movie…well, it could’ve been worse (Suga had a couple of stinkers in his late-twenties). And maybe it wasn't just the movie - he did get into regular brawls with people like Lou back in Patuxet. Poor Lou.

One more unrelated thing bothered Isaac. He gestured his head toward a sign over the train car door, which contained a mixture of the Arcadian language of Common and Zhanghai characters. “Does Zhanghai own this railroad, too?”

Reed glanced backwards. “Yessir. Zhanghai Industrial Corporation, to be specific. The Zhanghai are the ones bailing Arcadia out of the recession, so we gotta give them something in return, right?”

"No kidding," Isaac mumbled, thinking of the Patuxet mines.

“We’re here,” Reed said, breaking Isaac out of his thoughts. Through the window, Isaac saw Narragansett proper coming into view. His eyes widened at the mass of concrete jungle spread out before him. The first row of brick buildings at the city outskirts were taller than Isaac had ever seen before, but they were dwarfed by the buildings behind them, which steadily rose in height until they culminated in mighty steel and glass skyscrapers; it seemed like somebody created a staircase for giants. Elevated rails and highways ringed the city; since they arrived at night, a sea of lights radiated from the city, combined with searchlights combing the city for enemy flyers.

Then it all disappeared as the train descended into a tunnel. The dark cavern reminded Isaac of home; everything else seemed alien. The train slowed as it approached the light at the end of the tunnel - it broke through and Isaac found himself in a giant underground chamber made of concrete. Multiple trains were already steaming in place, waiting at the end of other lines.

Their own train came to a halt. Reed gathered her things - which consisted of just her greatcoat and sword - and ushered Isaac to follow. Almost in a stupor from the scale and size of city living, Isaac headed after her. They stepped off the train, and Isaac’s stupor turned into a trance. There were more people in the underground train station than in all of Patuxet. Men in suits, women in fatigues, and children in heavy jackets crowded the platform, which seemed to go on forever. Reed expertly navigated herself through the crowd; Isaac struggled to keep up. They finally made it out of the sea of people when they arrived at the exit turnstiles.

“Since we’re getting off at the city, we gotta pay an exit fee,” Reed complained as she approached one of them. Isaac went for his wallet, but Reed just clambered over it. She looked back at the confused Isaac. “Do as the locals do, Isaac.” The only local who hopped the turnstile was Reed, but she was his guide. He followed suit, nimbly lifting himself over the barrier.

“We already paid for our ticket,” Reed said in a huff. “And we already paid for the train and this station through our tax dollars. I'm a taxpayer, Isaac! Why should I pay multiple times? It’s this money-grubbing government, I swear.”

Isaac’s head whipped around, because an Arcadian shouldn't just go out and say anti-government things, but Reed apparently did not give a single squat, perhaps even two, about that. Her low voice was just a minor one in this crowd of thousands, anyway. Nearly everybody knew everybody in Patuxet. Isaac doubted that any of the people in this mass of humanity would ever see each other again. Patuxet produced a person like Isaac, and perhaps the anonymity of Narragansett produced a person like Reed.

Past the turnstiles were normal stairs and some funky-looking ones that moved. Isaac's jaw dropped at the sight. Moving stairs? That’s right out of a science fiction serial!

“Welcome to the modern world, Isaac. They call it an escalator.” Reed approached the platform and stepped on without a care in the world; Isaac approached it gingerly and successfully boarded after his second try. The escalator moved slowly, but when compared with going up all those stairs, his calves didn’t complain. Someone else complained, though - there was a tall, blonde girl walking up the escalator below them, moving briskly past other riders who kept their heads down. Isaac saw why as she approached - she wore the same green greatcoat as Reed, complete with the same anchor-across-spiral-galaxy emblem.

Isaac heard chuckling above him. Reed wore the biggest shit-eating grin he had ever seen.

The girl reached Isaac. “Out of my way,” she ordered. Isaac didn’t like her tone, but maybe this was common escalator etiquette?

“Don’t move,” Reed counter-ordered. Isaac decided to follow her instructions instead. “Isaac, that’s Mackenzie. She’s a dick.”

Isaac wasn’t sure how to respond to that.

Mackenzie brought a fist to her heart. “My name is Mackenzie of the Cartwright family. My family produced some of the earliest cultivators. I have knowledge to learn and ass to kick, so get out of my way. If you’re not going to walk up the escalator, then step aside.”

“If I wanted to walk I would’ve used the stairs,” Reed answered. “Why didn’t you?”

Mackenzie gestured her head at the staircase next to them. “Look at how slow the commoners move. I walk faster than most. Walking faster than most plus moving stairs equals me getting to my destination faster. Too bad varmint have to get in the way.”

The tension in the air was thick enough to cut through with a knife. Reed kept the amused look on her face, but Isaac stepped in. “Hey, look. I don’t know the history of you two, but Reed’s nice. She-”

“Nice?” Mackenzie sized up Isaac. Even though she was a step down on the escalator, she looked at him at eye level. “Let me tell you about Reed. Last week, I was going to bake a cake for my brother’s birthday. You know what Reed did? She went into my housing complex at the base, used our communal kitchen, and used all my baking ingredients to make the cake for herself. But the instructions called for 400 degree heat for an hour, so her big brain decided to go for 1600 degrees in fifteen minutes! The cake exploded all over the kitchen and broke the oven and she didn’t clean any of it! Worst of all, she took the rest of the frosting back to her own room and ate it all!”

That was a lot to take in. Isaac slowly glanced up at Reed, who just gave him a cheeky grin. He suspected Reed wasn’t as popular as she proclaimed.

“...okay,” he said. “That’s kind of awful. But she saved me yesterday, so I would appreciate it if you yelled at her somewhere else. And don’t go calling me varmint, either.”

That made Mackenzie look at them in a new light. “She…saved you?” A moment of contemplation passed. She crossed her arms and looked off to the side in a huff. “Alright. Fine. I guess I can wait in peace.”

Reed chuckled and looked elsewhere as well. Isaac sighed; he had only spent about five minutes in the capital, but could already see why urban life chewed people up and spat them back out.

The rest of the short escalator ride was quiet, the only sound coming from corporate jazz playing out of loudspeakers.