“We’ll have him undergo the entrance exam.” One of the soldiers walked their way. “Your boy will go in with us.”
Exam? What exam? Copperhide and Stonepetal were concerned. Wastelanders weren’t an educated lot and exams weren’t their strength. What if he didn’t pass?
It was a common fear the soldiers faced often. While they were quite frustrated with these mutants, their strong discipline prevailed. Besides, they weren’t Elysians anymore. They couldn’t act high and mighty like they used to.
“Everyone has their own talents, the point of the exam is to find out what those talents are. Those who are naturally strong might do well as martial artists, and possibly become great warriors one day. If they’re weaker, that’s no problem. Even students of average intelligence can learn the sciences and train with the Seekers. Once they graduate they’ll be scientists, on the front line of our city’s development.”
Wastelanders weren’t weak compared to Elysians due to physiological reasons. It was because they were never taught, never trained. Life was a series of days strung together, just trying to survive. What that life taught them was a fierce tenacity, like a wild animal, but without any formal learning it was hit or miss. What’s more, nothing was retained or passed on to the new generation to make them better.
That was why Skycloud steadily progressed while the wasteland stayed in ruins.
Cloudhawk was determined to lift the wastelands up from the dirt. Greenland City would be ground zero. Here, he would teach everyone that wastelanders were strong and capable. He would build an opportunity for these people to change their destinies. Maybe they became martial artists, or if not then maybe Seekers. Scientists were also highly respected.
What about those without physical ability or intelligence? The wastelands were a cruel place. If you were neither strong nor cunning, then you wouldn’t make it – few were the ones who by some twist of fate survived to adulthood. Still, they wouldn’t just be discarded. At least they could learn a little, enough to be effective workers.
Cloudhawk was determined to turn this city into the capital of a burgeoning domain. Greenland wouldn’t just evoke the idea of plentiful food and water. It would be a rebirth of culture, of learning. He hoped that in his realm people could learn their own worth.
Copperhide and Stonepetal had confidence in their child. They were at least smart enough to get by, and strength was not a worry.
The soldier was still taking his time with them. “I can tell you are new here. You haven’t registered at the fort, have you?”
Copperhide shook his head. With rumors of the new Governor so frightening, he hadn’t been in a rush to present himself.
“The Governor has ordered that everyone living in the city must register. What are you doing now, for work?”
“Work? What work?”
“Part of the new rules are that if you have a child in training, you are given work priority.” The soldier explained. “Since you don’t have any stable occupation, may I ask what you’re skilled in?”
Both mutants weren’t sure how to respond. This was a real law? “I can hunt, and fight.” Copperhide finally said, then added, as an afterthought, “I can take on ten men by myself. Does that count as a skill?”
“Not bad! We can get you a spot with the Governor’s Hunters. I won’t get too deep into it now, but suffice to say if you pull your weight you won’t have to worry about food.” The soldier nodded satisfactorily. “But on second thought, given what you’ve told me, maybe hunting isn’t best for you. The barracks is still looking for soldiers. You could give that a shot. If you pass muster you’ll get your meals every day as well as an allowance. We’ll also make sure you have a suitable place to live.”
Copperhide didn’t notice his heart racing. Before today, his hunting had always been done solo. It was by design, since he didn’t trust anyone else. Backstabbing was common among wastelanders, especially after a hunt. But if the hunt was formal and regulated, maybe that would happen less.
There were a lot of dangerous things out there waiting for unwary hunters. If he could go out with a team, why would Copperhide want to risk it alone?
However, what really caught his attention was the prospect of soldiering. Why kill himself going out for scraps day after day? If he became one of the city’s defenders he wouldn’t have to worry about going hungry anymore. He’d also hold better standing with the citizens, which was an appealing and novel idea.
Stonepetal didn’t want to be forgotten. “I’m strong, I can work!”
“We’ve opened a cement factory in the east side of the city. Just so happens we need strong workers. Greenland’s builders need hands at their quarries, too. If you think you’re up for it, go see what suits you. The more work you do, the more food you earn. You’ll only go hungry if you’re lazy.”
The mutant couple couldn’t believe their ears. Wasteland settlements were always only a loose association. Leaders were just people with the wherewithal to exploit their underlings, who demanded most of their food and goods for the right to live another day. It was unthinkable that a leader would offer work and food.
After the new leader had arrived, he’d found there was a thousand things that needed doing. That meant a thousand opportunities for Greenland’s people.
Ironspike was led into the campus, through rows of other wastelander children. They were all waiting in line before the giant pots. None of them pushed or rushed, for they knew there was enough for everybody.
Ironspike was still a child. All of this was strange and a little confusing. Where did the new leader get all this food to feed everyone? Why would he give it out for free? Ironspike didn’t get it, so he didn’t ponder too long. Either way, this new leader was a man to look up to as far as he was concerned. He didn’t want to ask questions, he only wanted a full belly.
“You new?” A small, sweet voice spoke at his shoulder. He looked down to see a pretty little girl staring up at him.
She was wearing a trainee’s leather vest and had a strange spiral stick slung across her back. Her eyes were a brilliant crystal blue. Ironspike had never seen anyone so pretty in all his life, so for a moment he was too tongue-tied to speak.
“My name’s Azura. Come with me!”
She was young but authoritative. The two of them walked to the far corner of the field and into a building. Therein were a few dozen newcomers like Ironspike, waiting for their exams.
Azura turned to him. “Good luck!”
The first part of the exam was a simple test of their physique; reaction time, endurance, strength and so on. Thanks to his parents Ironspike was born with the strength of a bull so he far surpassed everyone else he tested with.
Next was a test of intelligence, also uncomplicated. Testees were given a series of question to determine critical thinking, creative problem solving and more. Even though Ironspike was a mutant he was fairly clever, so he passed this test with flying colors as well.
It was clear that some were surprised that this dim-looking mutant was actually rather smart.
“Interesting kid. Definitely not your typical mutant,” Barb said. “Hey Blue, bring him to Claudia.”
“Right away, Barb!” Azura took Ironspike to a simple room, occupied by a pretty woman with golden hair. Before even speaking a word she threw a stick toward him.
Ironspike grabbed it out of the air. Before he even knew what was going on the woman was explaining a series of techniques to him.
The mutant did as he was told. Following her instructions, he was stunned when the head of the spiral rod slowly started to rotate. He was shocked, though he had no idea what it meant.
“Eh? A mutant with decent demonhunting talent?!” Claudia’s surprise nearly matched Ironspike’s. She’d tested three or four hundred children already, and so far only a handful of them had what it took to be trained as demonhunters – less than one in thirty. Those she did find had some talent but not much to speak of. Still, with training they could still develop into fair demonhunters.
This one, though, was different. He was able to resonate with the exorcist rod only a short time after picking it up. He even made it spin. It wasn’t deadly by any means, but it was a great start.
This kid had real potential.
“What’s your name?”
“Ironspike?” Claudia wrinkled her petite nose. What kind of a name was this? Wastelanders need to pick better things to call themselves. But it didn’t matter, she had a new student. She waved her hand at him. “Welcome, you’ve been admitted as a student of Greenland Institute. Starting today, you begin training with me.”
Ironspike shuffled in place, dazed.
“Say thank you!” Azura quietly prodded.
The stunned mutant came back to his senses and flopped to his knees. “Thank you, instructor… c-can I have something to eat before we start training?”
Claudia was speechless. The kid had no idea that his life was about to change dramatically. All he cared about was his next meal.
Well, so be it.
Copperhide submitted himself to recruitment with the Greenland guard. Stonepetal also found work in the cement factory. Their son was on the path to becoming a demonhunter. Copperhide and his family came to enjoy the benefits of Greenland City’s revolution – one example of hundreds. With Cloudhawk’s arrival, the wastelands had begun to change.