Chapter 15:

The Outer Sect V - "Every Move You Make"

Destiny Marine

The walk to Old Bob’s Dance Hall took about ten minutes. The street urchins weren't entirely wrong - technically, this could be seen as the nice part of Neponset. The previous labyryith of tenement halls, cracked streets, and tent cities had been replaced by a mere maze of just tenements halls and cracked streets. After arriving, it took another fifteen minutes for Isaac and Babs to get their food. Isaac could feel his wallet crying out in pain; after this, he would be down to his last five dollars. And, all things considered, he even wasn’t all that hungry, but Babs seemed excited and compared to his companion last night, she would at least pay for her own share of the meal. As he sat there, Isaac started to wonder if the Saint Grass pills were bunk. They apparently weren’t that powerful anyway, and after that initial spark when he first swallowed it, he felt no different.

Babs seemed to feel the same way, resting her chin idly on her palm. “Guess these pills ain’t shit.”

Another twenty minutes later, Isaac felt some crackle in his stomach. Something intangible coursed through his body; his head swam for a moment. Within that intangible element, he felt the tiniest bit of a thread and pulled on it by breathing; something warm and omniscient streamed into the center of his stomach.

This must be the Rddhi, Isaac realized. With every breath, I can pull more energy into my dantian. This must be how it feels to cultivate. Amazing! I can feel the dantian processing it, then circulating it through the rest of my body. So much is lost though; I bet by opening my meridians, I won’t lose that energy.

While all those thoughts swirled around his mind, the only thing Isaac could say was, “Damn, that’s crazy.”

Babs slapped their table and started laughing. That just made Isaac laugh, which made Babs laugh harder. Old Bob’s didn’t have a clock; Isaac didn’t know how long they just sat there laughing. The food on their plates, previously just pushed around, looked immensely appetizing. Isaac finished his and looked at Babs’ plate greedily, but she already finished hers and was now giving Isaac’s empty plate the same look. That only earned more laughter.

Auburn hair shifted through Babs’s fingers; she said she used to know the owner here, and Isaac could imagine a younger Babs, smelling like summer, just laughing and having a good time despite the misery of the slums. Somewhere along the way during his daydream, the sun went down, and a new wave of customers poured into the dance hall, sliding into the tables around the two Navy cultivators. In contrast to the attitude in the worst part of the town, the customers here paid the cultivators no more than a few glances before going about their own business. The military recruited from the slums - perhaps in this "nicer" part of town, the people saw that path as a route to escaping poverty. Isaac wondered if that's how Babs ended up here. He didn't ask, though; his mouth felt like wool as the effects of the pill continued to escalate. Babs looked away from their table, toward the center of the hall; the dance floor in its center still remained unoccupied at the moment.

“I can see why the N-Navy stopped using these,” Babs said, continuing to ruffle her own hair. Isaac imagined what she would look like if she let her hair down rather than keep it up in a ponytail; that just made him laugh some more. Milkshakes arrived; Babs must’ve ordered them. Between the milkshake and the laughter, Isaac could feel the Rddhi flow into his dantian in a zigzag fashion rather than a smooth stream.

“I bet,” Isaac wheezed out, “I bet the goal of these Saint Spirit pills is to get you to concentrate. You gotta ignore the giddiness and focus.”

Babs waved her hand, the corner of her mouth holding her milkshake straw, slightly muffling her voice. “That’s funny, ‘cuz I actually think it’s the opposite. Cultivation, you know, is all about breathing, and everyone says do it alone, do it in quiet. But I don’t know if I believe that’s the whole story. The important part is to focus on breathing. Does it really matter where it is?”

There were light ripples in the milkshake as Babs slid her straw around the concoction. “Cultivation is about being in the moment. Moments are everywhere, not just in underground chambers or silent fields.”

Isaac nodded along and tried to voice his understanding, but he was once again limited to, “Damn, that’s crazy.”

Babs finished her milkshake, creating a slight echo noise as she got the last drops at the bottom of her cup. “That’s why we’re here. We’re gonna cultivate while dancing.”

That made Isaac pause. “Eh?”

“Dancing is the Skyfather’s gift to the world. I can’t imagine a better moment to cultivate.”

Isaac could've sworn reubens were the Skyfather's gift to the world. Isaac was also the type of guy to raise a cup and cheer from a table while his friends danced at the saloon; he wasn’t really one to join them.

“This’ll be great, too.” Babs gestured at a band assembling on a stage near the back of the dance floor. “We’ll be the first ones. We’ll get tonight’s dancing started.”

Isaac rubbed the back of his head. “Ah, I don’t really know-”

Babs pulled her hair-tie off; auburn hair fell to her shoulders. Compared to the angular wolf’s grin she displayed while fighting, letting her hair down made her look rounder and smoother. After a moment, Isaac decided he would try dancing after all. The two arrived in the center of the dance floor; Babs shared a grin with the musicians of the band. She then looked back at Isaac and smiled. “Now, don’t me give me those manufactured dances like the Lawn Mower or the Shopping Cart. Just move to the beat. And while you do, focus on breathing. Don’t try to grasp at the moment though - just live.”

The esoteric instructions didn’t do much to settle Isaac’s nerves, but when he saw the encouraging, excited looks given to him by the rest of the people in the dance hall, he took a deep breath and settled himself (the giddiness from the pill also helped). The musicians consisted of a drummer, piano player, a saxophone player, and a trumpet player. The drummer clacked his sticks together. “One-two-three-four!”

The music kicked off; it was a popular jazz standard of the time, fast-paced and upbeat. Isaac was instantly brought back to easy-going days of summer festivals in Patuxet; he could feel the gentle heat from his childhood. He clapped his hands and started shimmying, twisting his feet, moving arms. Babs was already in full-swing, sliding her feet around Isaac, bobbing her head in time to the beat. Though all the looks given to them by the crowd were encouraging, Isaac still felt unsettled by being the center of attention. A bead of sweat rolled down his back and his shoes pressed uncomfortably into his heels.

Babs shimmied closer to him; she smelled a bit like strawberries. “Just take it easy,” she whispered, then slid away. Isaac redoubled his efforts on focusing on his breathing and trying to take in the music, but a long saxophone blast made him realize his error - breathing shouldn’t involve effort. Breathing just is. So was the music, so was the dancing, so was living.

The music cascaded through his body; it and his breathing became one and the same. Rddhi poured into his dantian like a river, cycling cleanly into the rest of his body. Isaac could make out the individual strands of hair falling onto Babs’ forehead; his body felt on fire, but a pleasant sort of fire that made him just want to dance and breathe and live more.

A couple joined them on the dance floor; that just intensified the fire. Soon, the rest of the crowd joined him, with Isaac and Babs at the center of it. They shimmied toward one another, and Isaac realized Babs must’ve been feeling the same way he was. Trumpets echoed around the dance hall; both he and Babs were laughing again. Isaac forgot all about breathing, yet the energy continued to pour into his dantian smoothly.


Isaac’s joie-de-vivre had been replaced by anxiety as the elevated train rolled back into the station near the Pond. The duo had been so caught-up in the dance hall that, by the time they made it back to the base, they had overshot their curfew. The pill had worn off by now as well; all the giddiness was gone. Isaac scratched his head nervously as the base came into view below him. Missing curfew on my first night!

Babs seemed much less concerned; she was back to blowing gum bubbles. “Don’t sweat it. I got a plan.”

That planned involved going in the opposite direction of the base once they arrived on street level. Babs took them a few blocks away, into a crowded side street filled with inns and taverns. They stepped into one close enough to the ocean for Isaac to smell the salt. Bill's Tavern was quiet now; most of its crowd had left. The tavern keeper - maybe he was Bill himself - washed his wooden bar counter as he saw Babs approach. He gave a smile and a nod; she nodded right back, as if she had done this routine countless times. Wordlessly, he brought the two into the back kitchen, and then into a locked room. He smiled knowingly and shut the door behind them.

As Isaac scratched his head, Babs pushed over a few wooden crates, revealing a hidden trapdoor. It creaked as she opened it, revealing a ladder into darkness below. “Give me a light.”

Isaac looked around for a torch or lantern, but then glanced at his own fist. His body and spirit had swelled with energy after a night of dancing; his fist immediately cracked with energy, currents of red light guiding the way for them. They descended down the ladder and ended up in a murky tunnel that looked like the ruins of an old sewer.

“Are we sneaking back into the base?” Isaac asked.

“Yessir. Ah, but don’t think we’re the only ones. You ever see a guard with too many pills or magazines or a new fur coat, there’s a good chance his goods came through this way.”

“You mean…a smuggling route inside?”

Babs let the light at the end of the tunnel answer them. Only when he stepped outside did Isaac realize that the moon provided the source of this new light; the two stood on a cliff overlooking the ocean. A few patrol boats lingered about, but the cliff was angled in such a way to prevent anyone from seeing the tunnel exit. The duo slinked along a narrow cliff-face, shielded by lone trees and cliff angles, until they reached another tunnel. Isaac’s fist lighted their way once more, and soon enough, they ended up ascending a ladder into a dark storage room in a warehouse. Just like that, they were inside the base, no worse for the wear.

“Will guards stop and question us when we return to the dorms?” Isaac asked and Babs peered through a windowsill to gauge their surroundings.

“The coast is clear right now, but I wouldn’t worry if we come across anyone.” Babs slipped out a window; Isaac followed along and closed it behind them. They were outside now, following a dirt road towards their dorms. “You see, the trick is to walk with purpose. Act like you belong. If you do, people will assume you got business and will leave you alone.”

Indeed, the hardest part was making it inside the base. As they walked along, none of the soldiers paid them any mind. Isaac wondered how many of the soldiers were just walking with purpose to hide their own activities, too. They made it back to the dorm without any trouble. It was only when he got to his door did Isaac remember that Babs was his neighbor. A nearby lantern hanging from a pole illuminated their faces.

“Thanks for showing me around town,” Isaac said. “It was fun. And I think I got my breathing technique down now.”

Babs gave him a soft smile. “That’s what I was hoping for.” That’s when she tied her hair back up in a ponytail and the wolfish side of her returned. “What did you think of the my little hometown?”

Isaac scratched his head at the serious turn of their conversation. “It opened my eyes a little. I didn’t know things were that bad.”

With light steps, Babs rested her forearms on the metal railing of the walkway. “I came here with a dream. The way we felt when we were dancing - I want everyone to feel that way. The system is flawed, so I want to become a high-ranking cultivator and change the system from within.” She looked back at him. “Did you come here with a dream?”

Isaac shifted uncomfortably. He just arrived here, and though Babs seemed nice, his brother's warning to trust no one still rang in his head. He felt bad, not being able to let Babs in on anything, so he said what he could. “I want to change something, too.”

“Excellent.” She turned and faced Isaac. “I’m not saying you have to join me in my dream, though I’d love it if you would. That can be a later question, though. As for now, since we’re squadmates and perhaps even friends - let’s work together. Let’s push each other so we accomplish our dreams.”

The lantern light reflected off her outstretched hand. Isaac almost seized up as he followed the light towards her face. The offer to follow their dreams together, the look of determination, the flaming red hair - Isaac felt like he stood face-to-face with Kassandra again. But she was locked up, and he was out here dancing. Except maybe somebody just like Kassandra was on the balcony with him, and that willful lie was enough to set Isaac's stomach at ease. He wouldn't let anyone derail his destiny this time. He would to gain vengeance for his brother and overthrow the system alongside a friend, just as he decided to do a few days ago.

Isaac extended his own hand. “We’re friends,” he confirmed. “So let’s do it.”

The two clasped hands; her palm was surprisingly soft to the touch.

“For change.”

“For change.”