Chapter 9:

The Emperor IX - "No Road Left..."

Destiny Marine

The two officers aimed their Tommy Guns squarely at Isaac, just a few feet away. One of the officers had a mop of black hair and wore an odd white glove around one of his hands, a tube of red stretching out of it until disappearing up his sleeve. The other office had a thin mustache.

“My name is Officer Symanski,” the gloved man introduced in a gruff voice. “The populace would have nothing to fear from the State Police if they just kept their heads down. A man with nothing to hide has nothing to fear.”

“My name is Officer Ludvig,” his companion added. “We tracked the traces of your cultivation to here. Hand over any information you received from your brother, and you two will leave alive.”

"Make a decision quickly," Symanski said. "Your friend doesn't have too long to live."

Near the tank, sunlight reflected off the scope of the gun once again. The third officer remained quiet, just barely visible at the corner of the rusted tank. He rested the gun on the tank tread and kept it pointed at Isaac's chest.

Isaac glanced down at his friend. An uncomfortable amount of blood now pooled around her - she did need medical attention, and fast. But then she found the strength within herself to make a small motion - she shook her head.

Isaac had his answer. “Not a chance in hell."

He would have to back that answer up, though. He currently had three guns aimed at him, and bullets tended to move faster than humans. Symanski recognized this, since he merely looked amused as he tapped his finger against the submachine gun's trigger.

“Cultivation has no place in modern times. Who can move faster - you, or the bullet in my gun?" Symanski placed his finger on the trigger firmly, not an ounce of fear on him.

“If I have to, then I will,” Isaac simply answered. Only a few feet separated himself from the officers. As he formulated a battle plan in his head, a shark's grin appeared on the face of Ludvig, as if he had finally cornered his prey.

"It’s three against one,” Ludvig called out to him. “Just hand them over-

"Three against four!" Fat Lou yelled, tackling the third officer from behind. Another gunshot went off, the rifle filing uselessly into the air. As Lou pummeled his face in, his two followers roared in to join them.

Isaac had no idea why Lou was there, but he also didn't care at the moment. He used the distraction to enact his plan - he lunged at Ludvig while activating his cultivation powers. While red energy did flow through him, this was his fourth activation without any sleep - the energy came out far weaker than he would've liked. But he gathered all his strength and smashed a haymaker into Ludvig's stomach. While the officer keeled over, Isaac stepped behind him, using him as human shield before Symanski could shoot at him.

But Symanski shot anyway. Ludvig exploded into a red mist of bullets; Isaac dove out of the way, taking Ludvig's Tommy Gun with him. He slid behind the foundation of the statue; bullets smacked into the concrete. Ludvig laid face-up on the ground, his lifeless eyes staring up at the sky.

Officer Symanski seemed unconcerned. As he calmly emptied the magazine out of the Tommy Gun, Isaac used the opportunity to fire at him. But this was just a ploy by Symanski; right as Isaac appeared from behind the statue, the officer dropped the submachine gun and quick-drawed a hidden revolver. The first shot took the Tommy Gun clean out of Isaac's hands; he ducked back behind the statue to safety as Symanski shot until his gun clicked empty.

"Isaac, you coward!" Fat Lou called out. He and his two followers had defeated the third officer; leaving him face-down in the dirt, they charged Symanski. "Get out and fight!" Symanski retrieved another hidden gun, but Lou was on him, tackling him into the dirt. While he bashed the officer's face in, his two followers stomped on his legs.

While Lou and his gang kept Symanski at bay, Isaac ripped off pieces of Ludvig's coat and returned to Kassandra. His fingers trembled, but he kept his composure as he tied them around them around her shoulder stump and stomach wound.

"I got shot," she mumbled, falling in and out of unconscious.

"You're gonna be okay," Isaac told her. "I'll bandage you up, we beat the officers, we have the journal, we even have a car. We'll make it to that next town over and find the Restorationists, alright?"

Kassandra weakly smiled and nodded. Symanski had been thoroughly beaten into the dirt; while one of the followers kept him pinned down, the other put the finishing touch on him by placing him in a chokehold. Fat Lou stepped away, retrieving Symanski's fallen Tommy Gun. He crouched down next to the fallen Ludvig and retrieved a spare magazine.

"Lou..." Isaac simply said. Lou was a big guy, but he earned getting the "Fat" dropped from his name. "What are you doing here?"

"I tried to rob you," he simply said. "Because I owed Zhanghai taxes. I don't even make enough money to pay their taxes in the first place. This morning, I heard about your attempted arrest. A Restorationist sympathizer? You're a square. There's no way. But then I saw those Staties drive through town and followed them here." He shook his head. "Don't take this wrong way, but you inspired me, alright? If someone like you is willing to fight back against Zhanghai and the government, then maybe, maybe someone small like Fat Lou can change, too-"

Ludvig rose from behind him and snapped his neck. Isaac watched in horror as Lou's corpse crumpled to the ground. But at least he died with a smile.

Gunshots rang out around Symanski - he had retrieved another pistol and shot the two followers dead. His face was severely battered and bruised, but he seemed fine compared to Ludvig. That officer, who should've been dead, had blood dripping down his body in too many areas. The hail of bullets tattered his suit, revealing the skin beneath it - multicolored and full of stitches, as if somebody had put him together like a puzzle.

As they approached, Isaac got over his shock. Red lights surged from his hand as he moved to strike Ludvig, but Symanski raised his gloved hand.

Something shifted. Isaac found the gigantic weight of a Reverse Spiral crushing him. He halted mid-step; he could physically feel the Rddhi inside him drain away. The disconnect could be felt on a spiritual level. He didn’t throw the next punch; he watched himself do it. All the red sparks and energy disappeared. This was just a normal punch, one Ludvig deflected with ease.

Isaac watched himself get struck across the face. As he fell to the ground, the glove glowed, the symbol of a reverse spiral galaxy appearing on it. How Isaac knew it was reversed, he had no idea.

Symanski arrived and stomped on Isaac a few times; he felt his lifeforce drain away. The officer breathed ragged breaths, his suit all torn and dirty, and he wiped the blood off his face. Ludvig scooped up Kassandra; Isaac could just barely make out the slight rise and fall of her chest.

"Ludvig's one of our most advanced models," Symanski simply said, patting Ludvig on the back. "That's why he even gets a name."

Ludvig merely grunted. Isaac wondered if he was looking at something not entirely human. He had no idea what was going on anymore.

"Take the women and our comrade back to the station," Symanski ordered. He scanned the horizon; dotting the hills were a few lone shacks and homesteads. "And take the corpses, too. Oswald can use them. As for Gregory's brother..."

Symanski grinned.

"Come back for me in about four hours."

Isaac awoke in what he assumed to be one of the neighboring shacks. It merely consisted of a rotting wooden floor, piles of trash, the chair his arms and legs were handcuffed to, and the table in front of him. Symanski stood on the other side, smoking a cigarette, looking over a collection of knives and pliers placed upon the table.

“Let’s get something straight here,” Symanski clarified. Isaac's heart skipped a beat when the officer produced both Greg's spare journal and his last will. "You have me in a bad mood. The officer by the tank - I was the best man at his wedding, you know that? Louis Lewenski has just died, so someone will have to pay for his blood."

It took Isaac a moment to realize Symanski referred to Fat Lou by his full name. That level of knowledge sent chills through him. That wasn't the only unnerving thing at the moment. Personally speaking, Isaac came down on the side of not getting tortured to death. He eyed Symanski’s white glove with the tubes of blood coming out of it. The pressing weight still remained, threatening to suffocate his soul. When his glove activated the Reverse Spiral, my powers had been shut down completely. If I want to escape, I need to destroy that glove. And then I'll save Kassandra.

He tried stalling for time. “Why didn’t you bring me to that Castle or whatever as well? And whose Oswald and how can he use the corpses? They deserve a proper burial.”

Symanski just grinned. “Who’s the one asking the questions here? There are rules you have to follow when torturing someone at a State Police base. But out here…I can get creative.”

That didn’t sound particularly good. Then Isaac's stomach dropped as Symasnki produced a lighter from his pocket. With one simple flick, flames caught Greg's last will and testament. Isaac squirmed and struggled against his bindings, only for the chair to tip over entirely. He slammed into the shack floor with a thud.

Symanski gripped his hair and pulled him back, just in time to see the letter burn away into ashes entirely. Another flick. The journal was much more sl0w-going, yet increasing amounts of it disappeared into burnt fragments. His last connection to Greg, the things he had sacrificed everything for, were now going up in smoke.

The officer casually tossed away the burning journal to the ground, then tapped a finger on one of the knives. “I want to know everything. Gregory must have friends. Allies. Acquaintances. People who he'll give a nod to when he passes by. I want to know all their names. I want to know everything about them."

Anger surged through Isaac. “Go to hell-”

Symanski grabbed a handful of hair and slammed his face into the table. Isaac saw blackness, then he saw stars, then he saw blood on the table when the officer lifted his head back up. Before he could get his bearings, Symanski did the same thing with an even greater amount of force; Isaac heard an awful cracking sound as pain erupted in his nose. He saw doubles of Symanski and the table; his ears rang; sweat and blood trailed down into his mouth.

“I can do this all day,” Symanski warned. “And I've already accomplished my most important objective - destroying the evidence Gregory had gathered. Just answer my questions now, and you’ll get your old life back and Kassandra will be freed. We'll leave you both of you alone after. We like people who agree to our demands.”

Isaac gave the officer a broken grin of defiance, then spat blood at him. Symanski looked dryly at the new stains on his black suit, then backhanded Isaac across the face. “I admire your fight. I hope my son will show the same spirit as he gets older. All of Arcadia’s children should possess this spirit. Too bad you’re fighting for the wrong side. People assume a revolutionary group fighting a military junta must be on the side of justice, but have you ever considered that while the military builds railroads, the revolutionaries blow them up? Arcadia’s economy would collapse without the military guiding its development. You’re harming your countrymen by holding out on me. Save this country, Isaac. Tell me everything.”

The journal continued to burn, but if Isaac found a way to free himself now, he could still salvage some of it. As he tried to think of ideas, he answered the officer with a toothy smile. “I can do this all day.”

The shack went quiet. Perhaps a toothy smile was the wrong expression to use there, since Symanski picked up one of the pliers.

“My old man was a dentist,” Symanski mused. “He wanted me to follow in his footsteps, but he and the rest of my family died during the Elysian terror bombing campaign in the last war. Guess you’re too young to remember that? Anyway, I’ll dedicate this next hour to my old man.”

Oooooooohhhh…this isn’t good.

Ragged breaths came out of Isaac as his mind raced with ideas on how to escape, all of them useless. He squirmed around, but all four of his limbs had been handcuffed to the chair. He only succeeded in tipping the chair over once again; the wooden floor banged into his head, then Symanski gripped his hair again and pulled him back up. As Symanski’s other hand approached menacingly with the pliers, Isaac gritted his teeth for what might’ve been the last time.

Reed opened the door.