Chapter 33:

The Young Master V - "The Friendly, Part 2"

Destiny Marine

Mackenzie crossed her arms as the remaining members of the two squadrons stared each other down. “You’re right, Reed. That is a classic. Let me show you something new.” Rddhi sparked up and down the tall girl as she activated an Art; rather than immediately crushing everybody again, Mackenzie instead motioned with her hands.

The unseen force made its presence known. From a visual perspective, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But then Isaac felt it right in his soul. Even when it surged by Isaac, ignoring him entirely, he could feel the weight as it traveled past him. The |Twilight Beam|. A power this strong carried its name with it. Reed raised her club-sword and let red Rddhi ripple through it right as Mackenzie’s invisible beam struck; there was a tremendous clash of sound and energy, sending energy flares crashing into the ground around them. Though she blocked the bulk of it, the force overwhelmed Reed, sending her sliding across the grass. She reoriented herself and rolled away before another |Twilight Beam| could crush her for good.

When the next beam came, Babs sent a gust of wind to knock it away. The first time worked, but the second time, the invisible beam felt more focused and smashed right through Babs’ wind. Mackenzie fought as though Babs and Isaac were just two sideshows, even though they were also 1C, the same Circuitry level as Reed. But Reed had the most Arts, was the leader of Squad 3, and seemed to have a personal connection with her, so the Beams ignored everything else in favor of Reed, who now counter-attacked with several sound waves of her own. The waves roared with energy and that particular guitar sound, something elongated and washed-out, but Mackenzie threw up the |Twilight Sphere| around her. The guitar noise shrieked when it made contact; Mackenzie slid back a few feet in the grass, but her sphere held firm. The two Chief Midshipmen fired their next attacks at the same time; wave and beam collided with enough force to send mushroom clouds of red sparks and dust into the area above the match. A few northerners nearby stopped their own fight in order to watch.

More beams came. As Babs tried to blast away them with her wind, Lynn suddenly arose from behind her. Before she could catch Babs in a rear naked chokehold, Isaac stepped forward and punched her right across the face. Lynn spun around then fell on her back, stars around her face and spirals in her eyes. Squad 2 was now definitely down to two members.

While Reed and Babs continued sending sound and wind, respectively, against their Twilight counterparts, Isaac narrowly dodged a punch across his own face. He backpedaled as Kieran sent a flurry of punches toward him. The punches looked dark; when Isaac was half-a-second too slow, a punch crashed into his shoulder that had serious weight behind it. Isaac leapt back to give himself space; pain shot down his arm, while Kieran raised his fists to display the metal knuckles he punched with.

“I call my Foundational Technique the |Iron Fists|,” he declared proudly. “My fingers produce more iron than normal, allowing me to both strengthen the bones and muscles in my hands, as well as secrete iron to form these metal knuckles-”

Kieran swore as he dodged a sudden fist from Isaac, his eyes widening from the amount of red energy flickering and crackling out from it. “Don’t interrupt a monologue from your betters!” Kieran roared, then took up the offensive once again.

Back in Patuxet, when Isaac faced a drawn-out fist fight, his strategy was to allow his opponent to take the initiative. They would punch and punch and punch, while Isaac either dodged or took the blows until his enemy finally wore himself out. Usually, in a street fight with malnourished child laborers, that meant about eight seconds. But against a young master with iron brass knuckles, Isaac couldn’t count on taking the punishment or outlasting him.

The key would be the |Fists of Anji|. Everybody knew he was working on it, but nobody knew he had unlocked it yet. A surprise attack with it would be the most effective, so Isaac needed to wait until the right moment. But in a fight that might only last a few more seconds, there were only a limited amount of moments available.

When Isaac backpedaled over a grass slick with Lynn’s blood, he gasped as his legs slipped and he stumbled backwards. Kieran pressed the advance, delivering a fierce uppercut. Time seemed to slow down as the punch neared Isaac’s jaw.

An uppercut? But I’m falling backwards, my own momentum should take me out of the way of his punch.

But before Isaac’s jaw could escape the uppercut, Kieran’s fist suddenly sparked in an explosion of red energy. Isaac could feel a similar sensation in the air as to when he fired the |Fists of Anji|.

No way…is he going to deliver a similar style of attack against me? If he launches a ranged attack now, even while falling backwards, I’ll be cooked!

Isaac’s hands wouldn’t make it up to protect himself in time. All he could do was bear the attack with all he had.

But then the explosion died out. The red energy petered to a halt. No ranged attack came, and Isaac fell out of the way of Kieran’s fist. Isaac did a backroll back up into a standing position; he thought for sure Kieran would have the jump on him, but instead, his opponent just gave his fist an utter look of bewilderment.

“But…I trained so much…I skipped dinners…nobody cared that I skipped them, but I thought it would be worth it to unlock this Art…and I couldn’t get it to work?”

Isaac used the opportunity of another monologue to catch his breath. Kieran had a deflated look on his face, as if the wind had been taken out of his sails. Isaac charged forward and took the initiative, matching Kieran’s initial offensive with his own flurry of punches. Kieran dodged them more sluggishly than Isaac did, and the old familiar tempo of their physical sparring matches arose once again. Once Isaac got one punch in - a jab to the chest - then two more easily followed, followed by another three.

During his next assault, rather than throw another punch, Isaac grabbed his collar. Instead of arrogance, Kieran’s eyes flashed with fear. Isaac didn’t even need the |Fists of Anji|; he just powered up a fist, ready to drop the hammer, and then-

The weight returned. Kieran’s collar escaped his grip as Isaac fell to one knee. He struggled to raise his arms. He couldn’t even turn his head; out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Babs had fallen to Mackenzie, her unconscious body littering the field alongside Lynn. Reed had been caught in the new |Twilight Sphere|, same as Isaac; she had been forced to one knee and looked exhausted from all the exertion. Having caught her prey like fish in a barrel, Mackenzie took a moment to catch her breath, before turning her attention to Isaac.

Isaac expected Mackenzie to simply blast him, but no Sphere or Beam arrived. Instead, Mackenzie had trapped Isaac in place to allow Kieran the finishing blow. Except the young master backed away, caught his breath, narrowed his eyes, and glanced venomously at his sister.

“I can do it myself!”

“You obviously can’t, you stupid cretin! Take the opportunity I’m giving you!”

“I’m never good enough for you, am I? I’m not good enough for the family, not good enough for Father, not good enough-”

Isaac roared and through sheer force of will (and maybe because Mackenzie was distracted a little) found the strength within himself to swing his arm through the |Twilight Sphere|. Kieran stood too far away to make contact, but Isaac wouldn’t need to.

The red energy in his fist ignited, sending sparks up his arm toward his shoulder. The electric charge rocketed out of Isaac’s fist, flying through the air just like a comet. Kieran only had enough time to gasp before the |Fists of Anji| slammed into his temple. Electricity exploded across his face, sending sparks into the air and down his neck, crackling and roaring all the while. The lights in Kieran's eyes instantly went out. He fell to the ground face-down, and didn’t get back up.

Looking more disappointed than surprised, Mackenzie retracted her |Twilight Sphere|. Reed immediately stood back up and launched a sword wave at her, but Mackenzie sidestepped it and send a beam back at her. Reed was just one step too slow this time; this beam caught her in the ankle. Isaac tried to help by firing an electric charge at Mackenzie, but the tall girl just dodged that one too - Isaac's ranged attack was still too shaky and uncontrollable. Another sound wave and beam crashed violently; Reed needed to wind up to swing a sound wave out of her sword, while Mackenzie could just move a hand to produce her attacks. This next beam came out faster than the next wave; it struck Reed right in the hand, knocking the club-sword away. For a woman who couldn't use her powers without that sword, this wasn't a promising development.

At times like these, Isaac hoped Reed would unveil some sort of super-duper hidden power. Instead, she looked blankly at the sword and then gave a sort of shrug to indicate 'well, that's life'. She wouldn't have had the time to reach her sword, anyway; another beam blasted her across the jaw, and she fell too.

That just left the final two opponents - Isaac versus Mackenzie. The two fighters took a moment to catch their breath.

Mackenzie possesses far more power than I do. I can't physically overwhelm her - I need to be smart about it. Let's put my thinking cap on. There must be a time limit to her |Twilight Sphere|, otherwise she would keep it up the whole time. Is there a cooldown period before she could use it again as well? And did it have any other limits? I haven't seen her use the Sphere and the Beam at the same time.

“This is going to hurt a little,” Mackenzie warned, then sent out another |Twilight Sphere|. Isaac thought with his head and did the smart thing - he ran away.

Mackenzie’s jaw slackened as Isaac escaped in a full-on dead sprint. When Isaac no longer felt the weight nipping at his heels, he stopped and turned on a dime. He had charged up his fist during the sprint, and with a grin, fired a |Fists of Anji| at her.

“I thought you might have had a range limit,” Isaac revealed. “And a time limit as well, which means-”

Isaac had escaped the range of her |Twilight Sphere|, and the time limit meant Mackenzie would be defenseless while the electric charge thundered toward her.

I have her now!

Mackenzie simply sidestepped the electric charge, which dissipated soon after passing her. “Keep working on that Art,” she suggested. “And looks like you have a range limit, too.”

She sent a |Twilight Beam| this time, but that Art’s weakness was its dodgeability. Isaac rolled out of the way; the ground where he formerly stood exploded in a cloud of dust and grass. The beam snaked toward him; right as it reached him, Isaac unleashed a powered punch on it. The force felt like two cars crashing head-on into each other, except Isaac rode a bicycle and Mackenzie rode a tank. Pain surged through his entire right arm, radiating into his chest and stomach and legs, making them feel numb and, for some reason, sleepy.

Stumbling through the grass away from her, Isaac thought he was done for, but the Beam reached its range limit. Isaac could feel the weight struggling to surge forward against a metaphoric fence (perhaps one of those new electric ones); slowly, it accepted its defeat and returned back to Mackenzie. She stared Isaac down with a hard stare that would make Osip proud.

Isaac fired off another electric charge, but due to the added distance, it had weakened so much that Mackenzie merely ducked her head to dodge its weak, limping remnants. The drain on his cultivation and physical wounds made Isaac feel sluggish; when Mackenzie sent another |Twilight Beam|, he could only backpedal a few feet away; he was still beyond its ranged limit and should therefore still be okay-

The Beam crossed the limit as if it had never been there in the first place. It caught him straight across the face; Isaac couldn’t tell if this felt like drowning, being smothered, or being bludgeoned. He tried anything, even something as simple as powering up a fist, but the energy failed to catch and his arms hung uselessly at his sides.

When the Beam retracted, Isaac collapsed to his side. He tried to writhe away, but all he could do was slightly raise his head to see his opponent. Mackenzie still stood in her original spot; the only difference was the blood dripping from one of her eyes.

“What you thought was my ranged limit - that’s only a soft limit,” she explained in a plain voice. “The hard limit only kicks in once every facial orifice bleeds. But you don’t have to worry about that. All you should worry about now…is getting some sleep…”

And so he did.


When Isaac awoke, his head felt like a train had just run over it; it took him a few moments to blink away the black spots. When he could finally see clearly again, he found himself in a room full of beds. Curtains hung from the ceiling over each bed to offer privacy, but none of the curtains were currently closed. To one side of him, Babs dozed off with her hands behind her head, while on the other, Reed writhed in a fitful sleep. Even Lynn and Kieran were there, in the row across from him. Lynn looked relieved while Kieran’s sleeping face seemed to stare daggers at the ceiling.

At least Isaac had a metal shipping container to shield himself from the explosion on the Melusine. Receiving a full cultivation blast to the face actually felt worse. It wasn’t just pain on a physical and mental level; a cultivation wound meant that Isaac felt it in his soul, too. Words couldn’t do such a feeling justice; while the spiritual pain remained, Isaac felt like he had been disconnected from reality, as if he was watching himself live from afar.

There were a few dozen injuries in the hospital as well. A few talked with one another from their beds in their northern accents; they all looked about the same age as Isaac, so they must’ve belonged to the other squads. The sting of defeat only added to Isaac’s woes.

The sound of talking was joined by orderly footsteps marching full of authority. Isaac expected a nurse or doctor to arrive, but instead, Mackenzie arrived in the room, her face looking clear and clean and distinctly free of blood. The northerners quieted down and gave her intrigued stares as she walked past them. When she arrived at Isaac’s bed, she came to a halt. Isaac briefly made eye contact with the northerners, who gave jealous stares. To make things worse for them, Mackenzie pulled on the curtains until they ensconced the area directly around Isaac's bed; he felt like he had been cut off from the rest of the world.

She crossed and gave a slight tilt of her head. A look like this combined feelings such as 'I’m better than you because I’m smarter, stronger, and wealthier' and 'because I'm superior, I must have my own code, my own way of living.' In other words - a smug look mixed with determination. Mackenzie didn't seem like the kind of person to have an off switch.

“We’ve met once before, Isaac. Let’s catch up.”