Chapter 17:

The Outer Sect VII - "Training Day"

Destiny Marine

Isaac had just enough time to digest his lunch and shoot the shit with Reed for a little bit before it was time for the afternoon physical education class. Osip stationed Isaac and his fellow awakened midshipmen at the front of a huge pack of cadets that would be running around a dirt track that surrounded the field. The air felt cool, the sun felt nice, and Isaac didn’t think running would be all that difficult.

It was. Once Osip had fired his gun, the pack went off, and about two laps in, Isaac realized that running was a bitch. He quickly fell from the front of the pack, ending up somewhere in its middle. Northern cadets gave him taunts and jeers as they passed; Isaac flinched when one even kicked him in the back of the leg. The cadet disappeared into the crowd before Isaac could catch him, but it’s not like Isaac could catch him anyway. Having won a fight against a cultivator already, running should’ve been a cakewalk, but a short fight and long-distance running were two different beasts. Isaac tried to regulate his breathing, hoping to cultivate while he ran, but pain gripped his lungs and he violently wheezed and coughed as he shambled along.

A groan escaped him when Demetrius passed him; the big man led the entire cadet group in the run (and had removed his shirt somewhere along the way), so if he passed Isaac, that could only mean one thing - he had lapped him. Isaac tried to pick up the pace, but his legs felt like jelly, and then someone smacked him in the back of the head. Isaac stumbled, just barely managing to keep himself upright. He caught a smirk on Kieran’s face before the rich kid continued after Demetrius.

A soft hand then patted him on the back. Babs took a moment to run next to him and give him a thumbs up before accelerating her pace. Isaac wasn’t previously aware that Babs possessed enough endurance to lap him, too, but thanks to her support, he soldiered on. And it wasn’t like Isaac was alone among his awakened cadets to have fallen towards the back. Lynn gave an all-out sprint during the first lap and now hyperventilated and cried next to him; the snake girl Oksana was nearby as well, a mute expression on her face. She didn’t look tired at all, but remained in the middle of the pack the whole time.

The run continued all afternoon. Every so often, Osip would tell them they only had a few laps to go, then would give them more laps. Finally, Isaac crossed the finish line and realized he could come to a stop for good now. He shambled over towards several soldiers who were handing out canteens of water; Isaac drank greedily, then cramped up.

But physical education wasn’t over yet. After that, Osip had the cadets sit on the field and practice their cultivation. Since they were just starting out, he wanted to make sure everybody got the form and process right. Isaac ended up sitting next to Babs and Kieran; the rich kid sweated profusely, as if he had given the run everything he had. Babs looked tired too, having rolled her sleeves back up; she stared slackjawed at the sky, trying to catch her breath.

The instructions were simple enough - go cultivate. Isaac sat on the grass, closed his eyes, and tried to cultivate, but his body and breathing were so wound up that he only succeeded in frustrated panting. He pulled a tuft of grass out of the dirt, then opened his eyes. He gave the grass a quizzical look; all he was doing right now was being unproductive.

Rather than brute force it, he thought back to yesterday’s successful cultivation at the dance hall. The key was not to grasp at anything - it was just to be. Forcing cultivation wouldn’t accomplish anything. Instead, Isaac straightened his back and closed his eyes again. Rather than the music and fellow dancers, he allowed the noises and feelings from around him drift inside his mind - bird calls, a cool breeze, soft grass. He was here, in this great big city, in this field.

The Saint Grass pill from yesterday gave him a stockpile of Rddhi to cultivate at the dance hall; this time, Isaac would have to find the Rddhi himself. As his breathing calmed down, he found hints of it, little threads extending from his surroundings. While his body remained still, he reached out and gently pulled on one, welcoming it into his dantian. Energy trickled inside, giving rise to a smooth stream. The more energy that came in, the more relaxed Isaac felt, or perhaps it was the other way around.


The sudden sound of wood against Lynn brought Isaac out of his steady rhythm. He didn’t open his eyes, but between the wood sound, Lynn’s yelps, and his own knowledge of kung fu movies, Isaac guessed that Osip had smacked a wooden stick against Lynn to test her during the cultivation.

Isaac tensed up, preparing himself for the smack, then realized that Osip's lesson was the opposite. The wooden pole was just another part of Isaac's surroundings. If it struck him, it struck him. The correct response was to endure and let it be. Isaac relaxed himself, and his cultivation picked up again.

When the wood smacked again, Kieran cried out. Isaac grinned, since it must’ve meant both he and Babs were skipped. That dancing lesson turned out to be helpful after all.

“Back straight, Kieran!” Osip barked out.

“All due respect, sir,” Kieran answered in chagrin, “I don’t see the point in all of this. I’m already Circuit 1C. Why do I have to train out here with all the peasantry?”

“You’re here so I can beat that arrogance out of you. In the eyes of Elysian artillery and Lawrencian tanks, you’re no different - just sacks of meat waiting to be torn apart! Try to be more like Spallacio there next to you!”

That set off a round of snickers from the northerners behind them. As Osip set out after them, barking commands and giving occasional strikes with his pole, Isaac could feel a slight change in the Rddhi around them; anger and inadequacy, radiating out of Kieran, dripped into them.


Isaac lost track of time as he cultivated. The sudden firing of a pistol and barking of commands by Osip brought him back to reality. As he stood up and then helped Babs up, Osip announced their last training for the day - physical combat exercises. No Rddhi or cultivation involved, just the practice of a martial arts style known as Silk Road Jujitsu.

“But we’re cultivators!” a westerner cried out.

“You can’t even cultivate yet!” Osip screamed back. Some westerners jeered at him; about a dozen people ended up needing to run more laps.

Osip paired people up to practice basic hand grips, punches, and throws; Isaac started off with Demetrius. The big man’s broad, chiseled physique made Isaac suspect his opponent would be good at this, and indeed he was. Demetrius executed the techniques flawlessly; Isaac struggled at first, but-

“Don’t give in, young Isaac!” Demetrius exclaimed. “Let your youth blossom on this field today!”

The moral support was well and good, but the technical advice of how exactly to grip and throw Demetrius’s body was probably more useful. And, in contrast to his earlier seriousness, he displayed a far more boisterous attitude during their practice.

When the time came for practice fights, Osip paired Isaac up with Kieran. The two young men faced each other on the grass field. Kieran looked hungry for blood. Isaac cracked his knuckles; he still remembered Kieran smacking him on their run, and decided to pay him back double for it.

“You upstart commoner,” Kieran called out. “Just because you cultivate well doesn’t mean you’re superior to me!”

“What does that even mean?” Isaac answered. Kieran’s words made no sense - Isaac never compared himself to the young master in the first place. He decided to answer with a taunt of his own and raised his fists in a boxer’s pose. "Prove I'm not superior to you, then."

Kieran spat on the ground and motioned for Isaac to come. The dull thud of Babs flinging Lynn to the dirt served as the starter’s pistol for their match. Isaac instinctually went to his street brawling techniques from Patuxet, which was more or less swing as he could for as long as he could. Isaac expected Kieran to back away, but instead, he came up to meet Isaac, throwing a punch of his own.

Kieran’s punch was faster than Isaac expected, hitting him square in the chest before Isaac could even complete his swing. The blow knocked the wind out of him; Isaac stumbled backwards, giving Kieran the opportunity to get his hands on his collars. With Isaac as his captive, Kieran stuck a leg out behind him and tossed Isaac to the ground.

As the world spun around him, Kieran spread his arms wide. “That’s it? I expected more from you.”

Isaac wiped his mouth and slowly got back up. He clenched his fist, and their next match began.


Unfortunately, that was indeed it. Every time they fought, Isaac couldn’t land a single blow on him. Kieran was always faster, always put his hands in the right grips, and always brought Isaac to the ground. Isaac got up each time, but he felt like his performance actually got worse over the course of the training session.

One final gunshot signified the end of training for the day. This was supposed to be shower and dinner time, but Isaac had little interest in either, so he just headed home for the time being. He rubbed his head; one of his defeats made his wounded nose ache again, and his head was starting to pound.

This is just too much. I can't even run, can't even fight, and I want to change Arcadia for the better? To avenge my brother’s death and save the country? There’s too much road ahead of me and not enough time. I haven’t even got to working on deciphering that page from the journal yet. Jasiel Abderrahmane Njord. What does that even mean? I know the base has a library, but we’re not allowed access yet. I need some books on cryptography.

As Isaac rubbed his head aggressively, trying to find answers he didn’t have, he arrived outside his apartment. As he reached for the handle, he blinked and paused - the door was already open. But only he had a key to it - no, that wasn’t true. He was the only cadet with a key to it, but the Navy would have keys to every room in their own base.

With a deep breath, Isaac stepped inside. Nothing had been touched, nothing was out of place. The only unusual sight was the officer sitting on his bed, smoking a cigarette. The grey uniform and blue sigil on his shoulder gave his identity away as an officer of the Naval Police. It's not like the Navy would trust the State Police to police their branch for them - the Navy had its own organized force.

“I’ve been waiting,” the officer said, his voice rough. A patch on his arm gave away his name as Connor. “Close that door.”

Isaac did as instructed, keeping his eyes on Connor the whole time. Connor looked to be in his late twenties, with faint auburn stubble on his chin. A blue Naval Police cap covered his head.

“Easy, lad,” Connor continued. “Take a seat.”

Isaac did as instructed once more, sitting on the wooden chair next to his desk. Thanks to all the cultivation exercises, he could at least keep his breathing normal and therefore himself calm. He resisted the screaming urge inside of him to glance at his closet where he hid the page.

Connor puffed on his cigarette. “Thousands of recruits come through here each year. It’s easy for paperwork and the like to go missing. Allows people we don’t want to slip inside. It’s my job to root out any traitors or deviants in our ranks. And to find out anything being hidden by our cadets.”

The air seemed humid and suffocating; Isaac’s hands grew clammy. “I see…”

“You wouldn’t happen to be hiding something, would ya?” Connor asked, leaning towards Isaac. The officer suddenly stood up and glanced around the room. “It’s my job to search the rooms of new cadets. Turn them over, make sure nothing’s getting smuggled in or out, whether it be weapons or information.”

The closet screamed at Isaac, telling him to look at it, make sure it wasn’t rummaged through. Connor kept his eyes fixed on Isaac. “Your room is next on my list. From a surface glance, nothing seems out of the ordinary. Perhaps you could do a good job of convincing me that my thorough search turned up nothing, either.”

The tension in the room slowly deflated as Isaac realized what the officer hinted at. Isaac glanced at the officer’s subtle hand, the palm facing up, and then pulled out his wallet. He frowned - he only had a five dollar bill left. He slowly placed it into Connor’s hand, trying to keep up his best poker face.

Connor stretched the bill out a few times, looking at the serene face of Supreme Commander Pulaski printed on either side. “The greedy part of me knows that a five dollar donation is awfully small. It’s telling me that I should just pocket the money and then search your room anyway.”

The air turned cold again. With bated breath, Isaac could only watch the twisting expressions on Connor’s face.

“However…the generous side of me, the side that’s just doing this so my daughter can afford her medical bills, knows that you’ve given me everything you have. That’s a one hundred percent donation. And when you look at it that way…”

After a moment, Connor tucked the money inside his uniform. “Your room’s in top shape, midshipman. I’ll inform my commander. If you wish to continue this relationship, I’ll expect at least half your month’s wages next month.

With that, Connor left it. Isaac locked the door behind him, then searched through the closet. That damned page was still there. Isaac wiped his face then collapsed into his desk chair.