Chapter 29:

The Young Master I - "Having Fun Isn't Hard..."

Destiny Marine

The radio warned of rainstorms in the days ahead, yet when Isaac woke up the next morning, the sky looked as clear and blue as ever. During the raid on the ship, Isaac found that the calm periods between all the fighting felt even more unnerving than the moments of carnage, but back at the base, he welcomed the return of the normal training days. He even got a new uniform since the fighting had damaged his old one; he felt taller, or maybe he just kept his head held even higher.

His arrival at Circuit 1C and mission success didn’t go unnoticed. Osip gave him the smallest of nods when he arrived at the morning assembly. Demetrius gave him a big pat on the back. Isaac closed in on Kieran during the morning laps, driving Kieran to train and run even harder. The pack of cultivation cadets had thinned considerably by now, with maybe half of the original few thousand sent away for normal conscription. On the other hand, there were a few more faces among the row of cadets who had unlocked the Rddhi; Osip announced the formation of Squads 11 and 12.

Now that Isaac built a solid core of Circuit 1C, it was time to make up for the little details he had missed along the way. Namely, it was time to open his meridians and start working on both strengthening his Foundational Technique and adding more Arts to his arsenal in general. Now that two week’s worth of wages had also come in, he wanted to purchase some pills and other materials as well. But to do that, he would need to avoid paying a bribe to the Naval Police officer Connor when he made his monthly inspection. And to avoid doing that, he needed to find a hiding spot for the page from Greg's journal.

As he walked back from the mess hall after a day’s worth of training, Isaac almost chided himself. The letter should be the most important thing, not all those Arts and meridians. It was easy to get lost in the world of cultivation and forget why he came there in the first place. Hopefully, now that he had archive pass, he would get close to the truth soon enough.

Jasiel Abderrahmane Njord. That was the hint mentioned in Greg’s letter. Isaac wasn’t a linguistics expert, but it seemed like a name, and an odd one at that, as if multiple languages were mixed together. It could also have been enciphered, which meant Isaac would have to find a way to decrypt it. After looking at it enough times, Isaac had the three words memorized; that meant he could keep the page somewhere safe for the time-being. And to do that, he called up the street-smartest kid he knew. Unfortunately, Babs was out training (she promised to catch up in Circuitry as soon as possible), and come to think of it, she had only been at the base as long as he had. When it came to hiding spots, he would need to contact someone with experience.

“You must be desperate to come to me,” Reed taunted as she let Isaac inside her apartment. This late at night, she wore a ratty wife beater and basketball shorts that had seen better days. The cast over her wounded left hand and arm also looked pretty grody for something only two days old. Furthermore, Isaac needed to watch his step as he struggled through the apartment, since her floor was littered with empty beer cans and dirty laundry. The smell of cigarettes percolated around the room, emanating from the multiple improvised ashtrays scattered about. He briefly made eye contact with bottles filled with a suspicious yellow liquid that he sincerely hoped was lemonade.

“Make yourself at home,” Reed offered, stretching her arms wide, a dull smile on her face.

Isaac decided to continue standing. “How does this pass inspection?”

“You think you’re the only one who gives bribes?” Reed pulled the desk chair through the mess to another wall. She stood on top of it and removed a clock hanging from the wall, revealing a secret compartment hidden behind it. “Ta-da, your dear paper from your dear brother would be safe right here.”

Isaac did not think his paper would be safe right here. Reed must’ve recognized the look on his face because she cracked a grin. “Of course, that’s what I want you to think. You see, there are times when the bribes don’t work and they ransack my room. Obviously, they’ll pull down this clock, and obviously, they’ll find this hiding spot. I’ll say something like ‘aw shucks’ and they think they got me. So they stop looking, when they really shouldn’t.”

She then scooted the chair toward the closet. When she stood on top of it this time, she had to stand on her toes to reach the top of a beam that formed the upper edge of the closet. Isaac raised an eyebrow when she slid a hand across the front of the beam and the outer layer of wood slid away, revealing some sort of tiny metal box implanted into the beam. Four holes dotted the front of the box.

“Hand me my sword,” she ordered, so Isaac did so. Once in her good hand, she gave it a light twirl, playing a note that escalated in pitch. “It’s called a shepard’s tone. I’m really just playing the same pitch, but your monkey brain can’t comprehend that and thinks it really is getting higher.”

“Monkey brain?” Isaac repeated.

“You didn’t know humans came from monkeys?”

“Pffftt.” Isaac wasn’t about to let Reed pull another fast one on him.

Reed rolled her eyes and gave the sword another twirl. One shepard’s tone later, something clicked in the box. Reed slid the front away, revealing a tiny compartment stuffed with cultivation pills, some probably non-cultivation pills, a baggie filled with a strange white powder, and, the oddest of them all, a silver locket. Isaac decided not to pry about it.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Isaac asked.

Reed looked back at him incredulously. “You’re the one who asked me to store your letter here for you.”

“No, I mean…this is a load-bearing wall. Messing with the beam and all that. And how does that box even work? I’m assuming you play the right note through those four holes and it opens?”

Reed extended her hand. “Check out the big brain on Isaac. This is a Reed family lockbox protected by a Reed family lock guarded by a Reed family member. I’m going on the record with you - once it’s in here, nobody can touch it now. I’m your girl. The Skyson himself couldn’t touch it.”

Considering the Skyson was, according to the Skyfather religion, the savior of Man, Reed did make a very convincing argument. So did the stalwart look in her eyes as she said it. With great reluctance only tempered by faith in his friend, he handed over the journal page - his last possible lead to save the country and his last possible lifeline to his deceased brother - to a girl with piss bottles.

He decided not to put it that way, and subtly crossed his fingers in superstition as Reed closed up her lockbox. Now that the letter was officially out of his hands, the gears in his mind went in a different direction. “Hey, wait a minute…you’ve always claimed you weren’t part of the Reed family, but didn’t you just confirm it?”

The smile on her face disappeared. With a heavy sigh, she sat down on her chair and rested her head on her palm. “Damn. I never wanted to admit it, but if I had to, I wanted to do it sometime when there would be emotional payoff to it. Maybe I should’ve told you in the hospital room the other day. There’s no excitement in revealing it like this.”

Heroic war stories flashed through Isaac’s mind. “Of course there’s excitement! You really are a Reed! My grandfather fought as a soldier in Arthur Reed’s army during Arcadia's founding. And you’re related to Viola Reed, the hero who made his victory possible. I mean, she's one of the Three Hurricanes! That’s crazy!”

Hibiscus Reed just frowned, and all the previous enthusiasm in her voice left. “Arthur got shot five years into his presidency by former supporters he pissed off. And Viola had to die in the final battle against Quinsigamond to make his victory possible.”

She slipped off the chair and flopped into her bed, the sudden impact sending empty cans bouncing away. She spoke to the ceiling. “I never met Viola, but I know she sucks. And dying is for squares, Isaac.”

He supposed that’s all he would get out of her for information today.


After the next day of training, rather than head home, Isaac instead headed to the Naval Archives. Thanks to directions from Demetrius - both he and Oksana had already gotten archive passes thanks to a mission of their own - Isaac arrived at the big keep at the back of the base. Some pointing and instructions from clerks brought him a large staircase to the second floor. After a brief look through the window out towards the base and the city behind it - the sun had started to set - Isaac arrived at the archives.

The town of Patuxet had a tiny little collection of books inside its schoolhouse. Isaac never went there; his brother would sometimes take home books for him, but that was the extent of it. So, when Isaac stepped through the mahogany doors into the Archives, he was taken aback by the sheer amount of books collected here. Rows and rows of bookshelves went on and on, and there was a second floor to this library as well. Isaac would've kept staring slackjawed at it all if the librarian at his desk hadn't prodded him to hand over his ID papers.

Once the librarian gave him the all clear, Isaac felt unbound. He drifted along at first, not even sure where to start. Isaac expected there to only be nautical and cultivation-related books in here, but it turns out the Navy collected everything. Through his wanderings, Isaac realized the library grouped books by topic - he ended up in a section called biology, and a few looks in books confirmed that meant nature science.

Even though he wasn’t in the right section, he pulled out books at random and scanned through pages. Reading seemed so boring in the classroom, but now that he could read what he wanted, he found himself reveling in his ability to actually turn these letters into meaningful words, sentences, and ideas. He smiled when he learned water could apparently go from ocean water to vapor to rain to river water and then back to ocean. He frowned when he learned humans really did come from monkeys (not because he opposed it, but because Reed was right).

The archives were quiet, and while some cadets and marines and sailors did roam the halls, Isaac found himself alone more often than not. He decided that one day, he would cultivate while reading a book, but for now, he had to find one book in particular. Jasiel Abderrahmane Njord. As Isaac wandered, he realized he had no idea where this guy - if that was even a name after all - could be found. He decided on the cultivation section. Once he got there, he scanned the shelves for authors named Jasiel, only to realize after a few bookcases that the last name came first. However, a similar search for Njord came up empty.

With a frown, and with the library closing soon (learning about the water cycle took up a good two hours), Isaac elected to return tomorrow with a much more organized search process, along with picking up some books about ciphers. For the little time he had left, Isaac looked through the shelves of cultivation books for an Art to add to his arsenal. His most glaring deficiency was his lack of a ranged attack.

He found it in a book detailing the Art known as the |Fists of Anji|. The Art was based on the element of lightning; when Isaac punched the air, he could use this Art to send a blast of lightning from his fist towards the enemy. The Art came with different techniques as well - a Bolt for precise targeting, or a Storm to strike a wide area.

With the book in tow, Isaac returned home, feeling confident in his selection. Though, as he sat down to cultivate before hitting the hay, he realized he might’ve jumped the gun. To unlock the |Fists of Anji|, he would first need to open one of the meridians in his hand. If he unlocked one meridian for this new Art, he could open the meridian on the other hand and apply another Art to it.

The possibilities seemed endless. Such confidence and excitement helped Isaac get into the groove of cultivation, and as he sat cross-legged on his wooden floor, he got to work. Rather than the usual practice of drawing Rddhi into his stomach and therefore dantian, he instead directed his efforts toward an imaginary line running from his dantian to right hand. It felt like digging a trench; he needed to exhale the metaphoric dirt and literal gunk to build a line from stomach to palm. The going felt slow at first, but right as Isaac felt like he had finally broken ground on the new project, there was a strong knock on the door.

Unsure of who it could be, Isaac gazed through the keyhole.

“Open up, lad!” Officer Connor yelled. “It’s inspection time.”