Chapter 16:

The Outer Sect VI - "The Young Master"

Destiny Marine

The next morning, the bugles woke Isaac; he donned his uniform and joined Babs in heading towards the morning roll-call. The Navy held it at the fields; just as Isaac suspected, they were on the southeastern side of the base behind a row of buildings. They joined a stream of hundreds of other recruits, all dressed in the same tan uniforms. As they approached, a soldier called Isaac and Babs off to the side. For a brief moment, Isaac wondered if they caught them for sneaking in late last night; the duo being lined up front and center at the assembly did little to assuage Isaac’s fears. Babs merely yawned and chewed her gum, holding her hands behind her head.

The rest of the recruits assembled behind them; every so often, one would be pulled to join them in the front row. The cadet standing next to Isaac was a tall boy with jet black hair - he could’ve even been considered rather feminine and pretty, but Isaac was more into tougher girls who could lift him effortlessly. But that wasn't important right now. The continuous wave of incoming recruits pushed those thoughts out of his mind, replacing them with questions over the appearance of these newcomers. Many looked half-starved, some looked too young, and the majority spoke in an odd accent of Common.

“To think - we’ll have to lead these northern peasants into battle one day,” the cadet next to him said with a haughty shake of the head. “They wouldn’t be able to wipe their own asses without the assistance of us in the capital.”

Babs frowned. Isaac tilted his head. “Northern?”

The cadet’s arrogant gaze turned to Isaac. “That’s a southern accent. How unfortunate. I thought I was talking to someone of equal standing as myself.”

It was Isaac’s turn to frown. “Hey-”


Isaac blinked in disbelief - the cadet had honest-to-God shushed him.

“I’m not done-”

“Ssssshhh. Why would I talk with a commoner?”

Before Isaac could get any more words in, thunder cracked over the recruits despite there being no clouds in the sky. Everyone came to attention as two uniformed commanders strolled in front of the assembly. The bearded one’s physique threatened to burst out of his greatcoat. The other wore a black jacket and a red scarf and looked tired.

“Attention!” the bearded commander called out. That quieted down the last of the murmurs. “I am Colonel Osip and this is Colonel Shokahu. I will oversee the morning assemblies and physical education sessions.” He gazed over the crowd; Isaac didn’t particularly like how Osip was only ten feet away from him, nor did he like the thousand-yard stares Shokahu gave to nobody in particular. “As of today - you have all officially achieved the rank of Midshipman. You lot are the cream of the crop - you have been chosen for the Outer Sect Brigade because we believe you have the aptitude to become cultivators. But do I see Arcadia’s best and brightest among the cadets here? No. All I see are thousands of emaciated misfits and children forcibly conscripted by the military. I will not lie - most of you will fail. Most of you will be rotated back to regular conscription. But for those of you who survive the trials and tribulations - power beyond your comprehension will be available at your fingertips.”

The arrogant cadet snickered at the notion of the northerners succeeding. Osip noticed this and cast a steely gaze in the direction of the front row. “Of the five thousand midshipmen in this Brigade, only the thirty of you in this front row have already unlocked the Rddhi. For the rest of you - these will be your targets. These are the ones you must strive to match to become a full-fledged cultivator for Arcadia.”

Even while staring straight ahead, Isaac could feel the staring at the back of his head by the recruits behind him, the murmurs and disapproval.

Osip approached the boy next to Isaac. “What’s your name?”

The cadet brought his palm over his heart, the pledge of allegiance to Arcadia that served as the military’s salute. “Kieran Cartwright.”

He’s related to Mackenzie?

A moment after he finished his name, Osip glared daggers at him. “That’s Kieran Cartwright, sir! I know your family's corporation handles shipbuilding for the Navy, but don’t think that will do you any favors here! You’re just as weak as the northern peasants you look so down upon, even weaker, for they can go longer than a day without crying home to their father!”

The verbal beatdown wiped the smirk off Kieran’s face; Isaac felt pretty satisfied about that, but then it was his turn.

Osip loomed over him. “State your name!”

“Isaac Spallacio, sir!” he said with a crisp salute.

“Where are you from?”

“Patuxet, sir!”

“A mining town, eh? Your lungs still work?”

Sweat beads dripped down Isaac, picking up in intensity the longer the conversation went on. “They work alright, sir.”

“Not when I’m through with them! You’ll wish you'd stayed in those mines forever!”

As the instructor moved on, Isaac kept his face neutral yet made an internal sigh of relief - his verbal assault had been more of a general drill instructor ass-chewing than a vicious personal attack like Kieran got (but Isaac certainly thought he deserved it).

“State your name!”

“Barbara Morang, sir!”

“Cadet Morang, when we’re at morning assembly, you do not roll up your sleeves and you do not chew gum! We are not a nation of mongrels like Elysia - we have pride in our appearance!”

“Aye, sir!”

Babs seemed amused by the whole thing as she did as the instructor commanded. Osip continued down the line.


This time, it was a short, blonde girl with a blue streak in her hair. “L-L-Lynn Falls, sir!”

Osip gripped the blue streak with muscular fingers (yes, his fingers were so powerful that they had biceps of their own). “We’re in the midst of an economic depression and you believe you’re in a position to play dress-up? What color is this?”

Lynn fidgeted and held back a wheeze. “C-c-coral blue number two, sir!”

“Earn the right to keep this!” Osip barked out. Next cadet. “Name!”

A muscular man with short hair tied neatly in a top knot saluted. “Demetrius Diakos, sir!”

“An Atalantan, huh? How do I know you're not one of the Restorationists!”

The expression on the serious young man's face never changed. "I'm here to save humanity, sir."

“No, you're not!" Osip corrected in his booming voice. "You're here to save Arcadia!"

Next cadet. “Name?”

A short girl with mousy brown hair and thin pupils reminiscent a snake answered. “Oksana Nazarov,” she said in an exhausted voice. Osip stared down at her; she stared past him, into space. The entire field went quiet for a moment.

Several garden snakes tumbled out of her hair. They slithered and hissed across the grass until disappearing back up her pant leg.

Osip and Shokahu shared dry glances with each other. “ cadet! Name?”

Fortunately, Osip only went through the first row of cultivators, rather than the thousands of unawakened cadets in the back. The cultivator cadets and their powerless counterparts were then mingled together and sent off to their various classes for the day. Today, Isaac had classical education sessions, lunch, and then physical education. He had been separated from Babs and neither Reed nor Dan, since they weren’t recruits, could be found; Isaac found himself walking alongside the snake girl. She said nothing, and neither did he.

Isaac’s group assembled in a classroom; in terms of size, it dwarfed the Patuxet schoolhouse, easily fitting hundreds of people. Standing at the front podium, Shokahu explained they would be taking placement tests on the 3 Rs - reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic, which apparently meant math.

Reading and writing were combined in one test. For an hour, Isaac read a story about a big, bad wolf (labeled Elysia) who terrorized three pigs (labeled innocent civilians of Arcadia). The first pig hid inside a house made of straw Restorationism; an artillery shell fired by the wolf blew him away. The second pig hid inside a house made of wood democracy; a tank flattened that house whole. The last pig hid inside a house made of metal loyalty to the Arcadian state and military; this house withstood a terror bombing campaign and subsequently counter-attacked and hanged the wolf.

Understanding the story was simple enough - but identifying things like “nouns” and “subjects” were beyond Isaac’s comprehension. A question asking for the difference between verb and adverb seemed like a trick. He only managed to answer half the problems, but he thought he did a decent job of completing the writing portion, which asked for a summary of the story and its themes (Elysia bad, Arcadia good!). Despite his deficiencies, when Isaac risked a look around the room, he saw that most of the cadets displayed far more frustrated looks on their faces than he did.

He joined them in their frustration on the math exam. He didn’t know what “area” meant and rhombus couldn’t have been a real word. The first question he got right was 2+2, which he answered by counting on his fingers. Isaac wasn’t the only one left scratching his head. Discontented murmurs ran through the classroom until one northerner cadet finally stood up and spoke. “I don’t see the point in any of this! We were conscripted to kill the enemy, not play with numbers! They forced me to come here, but was told I had potential to be a cultivator - so let me cultivate!”

Sitting behind a desk, Shokahu gave him a dry stare. “We want to assess your education levels. You will not just learn cultivation. You will learn a basic education as well. Not only will it allow you to read scrolls and books and operate heavy machinery, it will force your mind to grow and learn in tandem with your cultivation education. You’ll be learning how to learn.”

The northerner seemed unimpressed, so Shokahu continued. “You want to know another reason why we’re teaching you how to write? It’s so you can send letters back to your loved ones before an Elysian shell blows a hole through your torso.”

The northerner grumbled, but he apparently had loved ones, so he sat back down.

Isaac already felt exhausted from all the thinking he did today and it was only lunchtime. He lost snake girl in the crowd; since everybody was new, he didn’t particularly mind going up to a random table at the cafeteria to eat with someone, but many of these northerners already knew each other. It would be nice to eat with someone familiar.

And that’s when he spotted her. In a far-flung corner of the cafeteria, Reed ate by herself, looking small at her long, empty table. Isaac arrived, tray in hand, and sat across from her.

Reed had been pushing around her food until she noticed Isaac sitting down. A grin came to her face. “How’s your first day going? Osip chew you out?”

“Wasn’t that bad,” Isaac said.

“That’s good. Man, on my first day here, Osip said I was such a screw-up that I oughta have been lobotomized!” Reed laughed at the memory. “But if you give him everything you got and then some, he becomes a big softie.”

An idealistic daydream appeared in Isaac’s mind of the tough drill instructor pushing Reed on a playground swing. Roaming northern accents brought Isaac back to reality. “You know why the majority of the cadets are northerners?”

Reed looked around. “Oh yeah, I guess I gave you the dumbed-down version of conscription back in Patuxet. Let me teach you the intermediate version.” She drank an entire carton of milk in a single session and then wiped her mouth with her greatcoat sleeve. “You see, Arcadia has to maintain a huge standing military because we’ve basically pissed off every major power nearby. Or every other major power pissed us off. Who knows? The cycle of war gets confusing.”

She leaned back in her seat. “Ah, but anyway, we have conscription to fill the ranks of the military. It would be a bad look if people from the capital - you know, the rich folk close to the government - would have to be conscripted, so the only people forcibly recruited are from frontier regions. The northern part of the country is the biggest frontier, with that huge border with Lawrence and all, so the biggest bulk of recruits come from there. Don’t be surprised to hear western accents from the Elysian border, either.”

Isaac gauged the expressions on the other recruits’ faces. A few looked fired up, but most looked either resigned or fearful. Isaac made the decision to come here himself; these people had no choice.

“So, I guess I should’ve said that Circuit 1A cultivators from the capital, central, or south don’t need to be conscripted. But a northern 1A gets conscripted. Same with a western.”

If Isaac had to guess, that Lynn girl was probably conscripted.

“The conscripts are analyzed and the most promising are assigned as cultivation cadets,” Reed continued. “So, if the Navy got fifty thousand recruits this year, then the top five thousand were chosen as cultivation cadets. They’re the ones trying to unlock the Rddhi. Some people already awakened their powers, like you and Babs and the rich kids sent by their rich parents to join the military. Like those goddamn Cartwrights.”

Both Mackenzie and Kieran had displayed smug auras; Isaac nodded in agreement.

Then Reed raised a finger. “Ah, but there’s a catch. Conscription goes through Supreme Command - that’s the high command that oversees Army, Navy, and State Police - first, so they decide where the conscripts go. The Army gets all the cool shit, Isaac. It’s not fair. They get the most physically-fit recruits, the biggest budget, and the coolest tech - if I was there, I could’ve made that training video in color! But the best artists are the ones who face obstacles early in their careers.”

“So the Army gets the best cultivation recruits, too?”

“Outside of me, yes.”

That reminded Isaac of an earlier inconsistency. “Hey, you said your first name is Reed, but your real name is Hibiscus Reed.”

Reed tilted her head and eyed him for a moment. “Don’t worry about it. We all have secrets, Isaac.”

The letter from Gregory was definitely a secret, so Isaac understood her point. “..fair enough. So, what about the State Police? Do they get better stuff than the Navy?”

Reed laughed, but there was a slight unease lining the edge of her laughs. “They get less stuff from the Army and more than the Navy, but don’t get it twisted - the State Police are freaks, Isaac. They raise their soldiers from their teenage years. They raise their cultivators from birth.”