Chapter 32:

The Young Master IV - "The Friendly, Part 1"

Destiny Marine

With the meridian in the palm of his right hand clear, the time had come to unlock the powers of the |Fists of Anji|. Well, the time came two days later, after Isaac had recovered from the strain of the meridian’s clearing. He spent that first day in a daze, the pull of sleep constantly nagging at him, but by the second day he felt right as rain, or well enough to at least get started on the new Art. The training sessions with Osip seemed to transition with him, too. Perhaps another third of the cadets had been shipped elsewhere, relegated down to normal conscription. On the flip side, the number of cadets who could cultivate now numbered high enough to completely fill the first row of reveille. Isaac had a cultivator in the second row staring into the back of his head rather than a raw, unawakened recruit.

However, the second row was left behind on the training fields today while the first row got the option of accessing the base's training hall for the first time. All of Isaac’s fellow cadets except for Kieran and Oksana took that option; that duo remained behind to cultivate on the fields. As for the training hall - it seemed like a giant warehouse had been converted by the Navy into one of the dojos Isaac saw in his movies. Full-fledged cultivator marines trained here, sparring with one of the hundreds of training dummies or practicing with other training mechanisms. Cultivators practiced movement arts by jumping from pole to pole across a pit while others traversed by climbing across racks in the ceiling. Private rooms lined the edges and the yelling and noises echoed throughout, adding an additional dimension to the training due to the need to focus despite it all.

Isaac lined up next to Babs, each of them taking on a training dummy. “How come the second row didn’t get to come with us? Too crowded?” he asked her.

The dummy bounced along as Babs gave it a quick one-two jab. “Wouldn’t that be a good reason? I talked with Demetrius about it on the walk over. Apparently, Stockham is having a select group of cultivators train independently like the old sects used to do, while all the other cultivator cadets have to follow the usual training procedures - clear the meridians and learn the Arts required by the Navy.”

“So we’re the independent ones? Why?”

The dummy snapped back into place after Babs delivered an uppercut to it. “‘Cuz we’re baddasses, that’s why.” When Isaac just looked at her for the real reason, she laughed and shrugged. “Couldn’t tell you. You’d have to ask Stockham.”

With that, the two went back to their training. Babs radiated with energy - she had reached 1C the same night Isaac cleared his meridian. She herself was working on an Art now: the |Winds of Change|, which would give her hands some control over her wind powers rather than relying on her relatively imprecise breathing. Unlocking the Art would allow her to do something like pluck Jackson out of the air by himself, rather than unwillingly carry a group of grenades alongside him.

Isaac warmed up with some punches and jabs first. He then nodded in respect towards his training dummy since he knew the dummy was going to be ruined by him.

His normal |Eightfold Fist| worked by powering up energy inside it then striking a foe with it. For the |Fists of Anji|, he would need to unleash the energy out of his hand after he struck the air, similar to the way Reed launched sound waves out of her sword. The |Fists of Anji| wasn’t the strongest of techniques, but it was good for Isaac at 1C, and its only training requirements were to cultivate while punching. While Isaac couldn't rub his head while patting his stomach, he could certainly do that.

The hardest part was getting the energy to actually leave his fist in the first place. Not even tiny whiffs of Rddhi appeared out of his hand when he started out. Fortunately, the training dummy was built to last, and even after he whittled it down and punched it into oblivion, there would be many more dummies to replace it. Another difficult aspect was that only his right fist had its meridian cleared and could therefore train the Art; with the benefit of hindsight, Isaac would’ve cleared both meridians and trained different Arts in both fists at the same time. But he kept punching and cultivating all day, forgoing dinner in favor of training.

That first day, his comrades grinned in shared ambition and skipped dinner as well. However, by the third day, Isaac was one of the few cultivators to remain in the training hall by the end of the day. He continued on into the night, essentially alone, only janitors and a few experienced marines to keep him company. Isaac wasn’t facing any mental roadblocks; it’s just that new Arts took time, especially the first one. He had never ridden a bike before, but he imagined it was a similar experience - he had to keep trying until it finally clicked.

And, on that third night, it did. After throwing thousands of punches, Isaac threw one more like any other. When this one collided with the training dummy’s temple, the whole side of its face was blown away by a sudden electric charge. Taking a breath, Isaac looked at the tattered remains falling to the ground. He then pumped his fist, imagining a shotgun going off.

Isaac blew off the rest of the dummy’s head with his next punch. With a grin, he found a new dummy and this time, tried using the |Fists of Anji| as a ranged attack. He stepped backwards, away from the dummy, then punched the air. It felt weird, not striking anything, so the electric charge didn’t go off. When he tried the second time, a weak lightning bolt sputtered out of his hand; the timing was off and the bolt struck the ground rather than its intended target.

Nevertheless, Isaac punched his open palm in victory. The hard part was out of the way; all he had to do now was work on setting the charge off at the right time and increasing its power.

Two surprises awaited Isaac as he stepped back outside. First - he caught a glimpse of Kieran still training on the fields, utterly alone. He wasn’t sure if the rich kid training this late or his lack of companions felt more surprising. And secondly - outside his door, Isaac found a wrapped bowl of dining hall gruel.


Reed’s name must’ve been the original. In all different styles of handwriting, some better than others, were



Isaac’s breakthrough came at the perfect time. The next day, rather than offer training on the fields or in the hall, Osip oversaw cultivation sparring matches between the squads. He assigned Squad 3 to face off against Squad 2; the sun continued to shine in the blue sky above them as the rival trios glanced at each other. Chief Midshipmen Mackenzie and Reed, who were usually off doing their own training at this time, now joined the cadets on the field.

Squad 2 consisted of Mackenzie Cartwright, Kieran Cartwright, and Lynn Falls. The skittish girl twiddled her fingers as she followed behind the two Cartwright siblings; they were in the middle of a hushed argument over strategy. On the other side of their sparring arena - just a particular spot in the field - Reed stood next to a kneeling Osip as he worked on her club. No, that wasn't right - Reed obviously used a sword. But her weapon had been taped up with enough wooden planks covering both the sharp and flat sides to turn it into a club. Osip handed it up to her; she gave it a few swings, getting used to the added weight.

“Why'd you do that?” Isaac asked as he and Babs stretched out their quads.

A sigh and shake of the head answered him. “Well, even though the sound waves aren't lethal, my sword's still a sword, and a sharp one at that. Even though Osip will be watching us to prevent any permanent injury, it’s not the kind you can use in a training match. So I gotta turn it into something non-lethal by putting these wooden blockers on it. Might muffle my sound waves a bit, but rather than lop someone's arm off, I'll just leave a nice Reed-shaped bruise on it.”

Babs redid her ponytail. “Why can't you just use a wooden sword?”

“Hmm…what’s the opposite of effective?”

“Ineffective?” Isaac supposed.

Reed nodded. “There’s your answer. I don’t have any ability to use my Rddhi powers without my own sword.”

She said it so nonchalant and casually that it took her squadmates a moment to register her words. Two raised pairs of eyebrows prodded Reed to elaborate. “Remember all those swordsmen on the Melusine? They were all probably 1A or 1B, too weak to normally be an effective fighter, but wielding something like their swords allowed them to channel their energy into something. Slap the right charm on a sword or weapon and it becomes like a lightning rod. You can use the Rddhi more effectively that way.”

Reed twirled her sword again. “It’s the same for me. I can’t do nothing without my special sword.”

Isaac didn’t want to pry, but considering Reed's family expected her to be a prodigy, having a handicap like that probably didn’t bode well.

“What’s so special about your sword?” Isaac asked. Sure, when he saw it during the smuggling raid, it had an interesting look - black as the night sky, random streaking colors as she twirled it. But he assumed those were what normal military-grade cultivation swords looked like.

Reed raised two fingers in a V for Victory pose. “I have the Domino Sword.”

Just two words made Isaac’s mind flood with information from class (and his early days of playing with the kids of Patuxet in empty lots, pretending to be heroes). “Derek Domino???” he yelled out, drawing a few stares. He quieted himself back down. “But…he was a hero and helped free this country alongside Viola Reed…he's one of The Three Hurricanes. How did you end up with his sword?”

“Derek Domino is still kicking, the old bastard,” Reed answered with warmth in her voice and amusement in her eyes. “But like you said, he was a companion of Great-Aunt Viola when they freed Arcadia. He has a soft spot for Reeds…well, for Hibiscus Reed. And here I am.”

The backstory of Isaac’s squad leader continued to take on new twists and turns. She hailed from a legendary family and wielded a legendary sword. But she was also kind of lazy, kind of pissy, and probably needed to shower more often. What a world Isaac lived in.

“Are you three going to keep squawking?” Osip barked out. Reed twirled the wooden sword in her hand, then nodded at her companions. The three rose from their stretches and faced down Squad 2, who was waiting for them about ten feet away on their side of the makeshift arena.

With his hard gaze, Osip looked at either squad. “I will intervene should I deem it necessary. Otherwise, do what you need to win.”

“Do we, uh…have a strategy?” Isaac mumbled to his teammates.

Reed grinned and pointed her sword directly at Mackenzie. “Yessir. Our strategy is to win.”

“That’s…that’s not a strategy-”

“Begin!” Osip roared.

The field saw a temporary lightshow as six Rddhi activations went off, sending out crackles and flares of red energy into the air. Before anyone on Squad 3 could even move, an invisible force of nature washed right through them from head to toe. Isaac and Babs immediately fell to one knee, while Reed continued to stand, though she gritted her teeth and struggled immensely.

Isaac tried in vain to stand back up. The weight of this force made it seem like the entire world rested on his shoulders. But that wasn’t quite right - the force continued to crash into his front, emanating from someone - emanating from Mackenzie. Bright red lights flashed up and down her entire body and an invisible breeze kicked up her hair.

“She’s…a 2B,” Reed struggled out. Isaac would’ve wiped his face if he could raise his arm - on paper, Mackenzie was stronger than either Panama or Jackson.

“Go Lynn!” Mackenzie ordered. Lynn took a deep breath, then tapped her shoe against the field a couple of times. Each time it connected, the spark of Rddhi erupting from in it grew a little larger, with the last strike sending a flare that tore a patch of grass out of the field. When Lynn planted her foot, the force suddenly let up, but then Lynn disappeared.

Reed nonchalantly swung her club-sword like a baseball bat. Lynn reappeared right in front of her, her fist raised, but Reed smacked her across the face. A tremendous cracking sound ripped through the air as wood smashed into flesh. As everyone silently watched, Lynn stumbled around, felt her bloody nose with a dumbfounded look on her face, then immediately passed out.

After a cocksure stare at the unconscious Lynn, Reed rested the club-sword across her neck. “The |Twilight Sphere|, that’s a classic,” she told Mackenzie with her smug grin on her face. Reed then stuck out her head, tilting the ear toward Mackenzie. “I told you - I got two Arts in my ears. The |Twilight Sphere| is a sphere made out of waves that disorientates its target. Too bad my Art improves my balance-”

“Reed!” Osip yelled. “Stop monologuing and start fighting!”

She sighed. “Yeah, yeah. Anyway, what I’m saying is-”

Isaac rose to his feet and raised his fists. Next to him, Babs wiped her mouth and grinned.

“-Squad Reed won’t go down that easily.”