Chapter 6:

The Emperor VI - "Night Goes On"

Destiny Marine

The entire cinema catching on fire provided a good distraction for Reed to disappear into the night. While volunteers formed fire brigades to put out the inferno, Isaac, Reed, and the captive Alfie made for Reed’s car, hidden in plain sight down the road. As evidenced by its rickety, boxy design, it was an Arcadian-produced car, rather than one imported from Zhanghai (who knew what they were doing in terms of building cars).

Reed tossed Alfie into the backseat while the adrenaline subsided from Isaac. That allowed all the formerly subdued pain to rise to the surface; sharp burns and stinging sensations stretched from Isaac’s seared arms to the rest of the body. Noticing his plight, Reed unveiled a bottle of Rusalkan vodka from her greatcoat. Isaac gritted his teeth as she poured it over his wounds. This pain felt even worse than the burns, but after a quick swig, Reed tied bandages over his arms. Her fingers moved roughly and erratically.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she informed him. “And not just for my referral bonus, though let's be clear, Isaac - I really want that bonus. But I'll also be back tomorrow for the cinema…assuming it survives, I guess…well, in any case, it’ll be playing Lionheart Blossom Warrior: The Prequel tomorrow. It’s the only one of Suga’s movies I haven’t seen in cinemas yet. Should you choose to, you can come back with me to the Navy that day. Otherwise, you can enlist on your own, or go mine rocks, or do whatever you want.”

When Isaac didn’t have an answer for her, she adjusted her collars again, then slipped into the driver’s seat.

“Take care, Isaac.”

And then she was off, headlights disappearing down a dark rural road.


Under the glow of the gaslights, Isaac walked toward home. The town had quieted by now; it must've been several hours after midnight by this point. But that also meant several hours before dawn, so darkness still covered the land. Isaac felt awfully small at that moment; how could what seemed like just another normal day turn into something like this?

But then he shook his head. He had already been sidetracked once, and sure, he was a cultivator now, but if he had made one wrong move in the theater, or if he had to fight multiple State Police officers rather than one novice cultivator, Isaac would've been captured. That Reed girl was right - he made his choice in the movie theater. He could never go back to the old life. The only way to move was forward.

The gaslight nearest to the tenement hall flickered as Isaac approached. The hall loomed behind it, the tall, makeshift structure jutting out towards the sky; it had never felt more ominous. Isaac had already been ambushed once, and if the State Police officers were looking for him, their first stop would be his room. Isaac stepped off the road, until the glow of the gaslight disappeared; he replaced it with the red glow of Rddhi activation. He could feel the fire in his stomach ignite and then stretch down into his arm until sparks raced through it. Interestingly enough, he had the ability to keep one fist normal while sending energy into the other one, and tt felt just as easy as Kassandra described - people don’t manually tell the legs to walk, they just do. Isaac didn’t manually activate the Rddhi - he wanted to use his cultivation powers, so he did. He also removed his shoes, tying the laces together and hanging the pair around his neck. That way, he could move quietly.

Using his superpowered fist in lieu of a pistol, Isaac approached the heavy front door to the hall with a raised hand. After a deep breath, he cautiously pushed the door inwards; he frowned when it creaked. But nobody awaited him in the front lobby; the lights, as usual, were off. Isaac sighed in relief, then paused again. The front lobby appearing empty - that rung alarm bells. Usually, there would at least be a drunk or a junkie (and sometimes they were the same person) dozing about or sitting in a corner, staring into empty space. But if the lobby was empty - its usual occupants must've seem something that made them clear out of there. And generally, "something" meant the authorities.

With light steps, utterly quiet, Isaac made his way up the staircase, tucked away in the corner of the building. A lone fluorescent light at the top of stairwell offered him guidance, but he knew the way up by heart. The owners of the building (Zhanghai Industrial Corporation) replaced a broken metal section of the stairs with a particular creaky wooden one; thanks to removing his shoes and stepping lightly, Isaac made it past that section without a sound.

He arrived at his floor. His fist still raised, he stepped cautiously into the hallway; this area had lights. Without a sound, he moved past the area where he beat Fat Lou a few weeks ago; the plaster in the wall was still dented and cracked. With bated breath, Isaac arrived at the door. It was slightly ajar.

Isaac paused before reaching the handle. He always shut the door and locked it before heading to work. The only people who had room keys would be Isaac himself, Greg, and the Zhanghai landlords. Isaac placed his ear against the plaster wall neighboring the door; he stopped himself from gasping when he heard the Zhanghai language on the other side.

Corporate samurai currently occupied his room. They would be armed with swords and revolvers, and if Isaac was unlucky, they would have cultivation powers, too. But why were they here? Zhanghai was in bed with the military, including the State Police - had word about Greg's attempted arrest reached Zhanghai, who now moved to arrest Isaac simply because they were related?

In either case - years ago, Isaac decided fighting against someone like Zhanghai wasn't worth it. It was dangerous, and it was better to keep your head down. But Isaac's head was now raised high - he needed the key inside his room, and waiting didn't seem like an option. The longer he waited, the more time Zhanghai and the State Police had to gather their forces against him.

The room was tiny. There were at least two samurai in there, and given the room's layout, they could only be by the table or by the sleeping mat. There wasn't a whole lot of room for fighting - Isaac needed to defeat them quickly and cleanly. No mistakes. If Isaac had gone right home after meeting with Greg, he probably could've avoided this fight. But thanks to his new cultivation powers, at least this fight would be a fair one.

Isaac took a deep breath. Then he kicked in the door and lunged inside. One samurai sitting at the table, drinking whiskey from a bottle. One samurai in the sleeping area, leaning against the wall. Both surprised. Isaac closed the distance and hit the samurai in the table right in the nose. Red energy exploded. The samurai went down. The other samurai reached for his sword. Isaac tossed the bottle, forcing the samurai to knock it away with his sword. Whiskey and glass exploded over the room. Isaac dove onto the fallen samurai and unholstered his revolver.

Having never fired a gun before, it seemed simple enough. Point and shoot. Six bullets whizzed out in succession, but shooting a gun resulted in recoil and kickback Isaac wasn't prepared for. The first five bullets missed - but the sixth bullet ripped right through the standing samurai's foot.

The samurai cried out and crumpled onto the floor face-down, right into a puddle of whiskey. His sword clattered away, but before he could reach out and retrieve it, Isaac kicked it away and loomed over the defeated samurai. He knelt on the samurai's back, keeping him pinned in place, and kept his fist aimed at his head like a gun.

"Are you working with the State Police?" Isaac barked at him.

The samurai coughed and then choked out in rough Common, "I don't have to tell you anything."

Having never been in a position like this before, Isaac wracked his brain for methods on how to get someone to talk. That usually meant violence. He struck his captive across the face with his unpowered fist, but the samurai's look remained defiant. Isaac thought about activating his cultivation power in both fists and just wailing on him, but that carried the danger of knocking him out or worse without gaining any information. No, Isaac needed something more. Back in the theater, Reed used the red flickers of Rddhi to light up her own cigarette. Elsewhere, chairs and oil caught on fire.

The samurai laid in a pool of alcohol, and Isaac put two and two together. "If you don't talk..." he warned, letting his next action finish the sentence for him. He placed his hand dangerously close to the man's face and dangerously close to the puddle it lied in and let a few sparks run through it. Now, could Isaac actually burn a man's face off? He wasn't quite sure. But it didn't matter whether he could or not. The only thing that mattered was if the samurai thought he could.

The samurai's wide eyes reflected the red lights. "Alright, alright!" he cried out. Isaac retracted his hand and the man sighed in relief. "The State Police arrested a Restorationist sympathizer ring at Wampa College earlier tonight. One of the rebels escaped them, so they cabled Zhanghai and asked us to arrest two of his associates here in Patuxet."

Greg was the escapee. Isaac was one associate. The other associate?

"Kassandra," Isaac realized with alarm.

"That's all I know, I swear!" the samurai pleaded. "You weren't supposed to be a cultivator...just let me go, please!"

Red sparks raced up Isaac's fist. He didn't feel comfortable with killing a man he held at his mercy, but the samurai needed to at least be put out of commission for a while. Imitating his hero Suga, Isaac delivered a superpowered karate chop to the back of the man's head. The lights went off in the samurai's eyes as he instantly got knocked unconscious. The other samurai remained quiet and unconscious in his corner, too.

First things first. Isaac changed out of socks, sticky from the alcohol, into fresh ones, and slipped his shoes back on. He tossed his brown bomber jacket on and filled a canteen with water. East Sachem Temple wouldn't be that far of a journey - maybe just a few hours from town, through rolling hills and down dusty trails. Isaac had even gone there to play with Greg when they were kids. But he had never traveled there with pursuers hot on his heels.

That just left the key. Isaac emptied one of room's cabinets and pulled away the false wall behind it. Inside was a hidey-hole where the brothers' kept their collective savings of ten dollars (which, to be fair, was worth about forty movies at the cinema). Isaac emptied the money into his jacket, which left one item inside - a slip of paper. No key in sight.

Scratching his head, Isaac retrieved the paper which had been previously hidden behind the stack of dollar bills. On it, in Greg's scrawl, were the numbers 2-6-4-7.

This doesn't make any sense, Isaac thought. Can numbers be a key?

Well, Greg did go to college. And colleges had cutting-edge science like mathematics, football fields with floodlights, and literate people. If Isaac could now use psychic powers, then maybe numbers could be keys, too.

He tucked the slip of paper inside his jacket as well. And that was that. When he gazed upon the room afterwards, he resisted the urge to call it the last time. He sincerely hoped he would be able to say goodbye under better circumstances. Isaac wasn't fond of goodbyes, anyway. But he had somewhere he needed to be.