Chapter 34:

The Young Master VI - "The Jade Beauty"

Destiny Marine

Isaac rubbed his temples, cursing his luck. The Cartwright family had done little to make themselves his friends, and right now he would much rather sleep or catch some fresh air than listen to the rich girl speak. And speaking of speaking-

“Even though you closed the curtains, it won’t be much of a private conversation,” Isaac pointed out. “Sound will get through it.”

Mackenzie raised a hand and snapped her fingers. For a brief instance, Isaac felt something similar to the |Twilight Sphere| go through him, but this only left a slight tickle in his stomach. Mackenzie lowered her hand and stood with both hands behind her back; before visiting Isaac, she had changed into the tan dress uniform and now stood at full attention. Only her eyes were lowered in order to look at Isaac as she spoke at him.

“My |Dusk Cauldron| will prevent any sound from leaving through the curtains,” Mackenzie said, concluding that matter. Isaac just rubbed his head again; he saw a flash of movement and flinched, but she had merely tossed a June Meadow Rddhi pill at him.

“The Navy wants you all to recover on your own accords, but since we're comrades, I thought I’d help,” she offered in a matter-of-fact tone.

Isaac held the small pill between his index finger and thumb. “This would be half a month’s worth of wages. And I’d be the only cadet getting one. I can’t accept this.”

“It’s no matter. My family sends me an allowance each month. I had more than enough to buy one for all five of you and then some.”

The pill sailed back through the air. Mackenzie caught it and Isaac lowered his hand. “Then I really can’t accept it then.”

Disappointed fingers tucked the pill away in one of the uniform’s many pockets. “A shame. The poor always clamor for government handouts, then are too proud to accept them.”

The Cartwright family did a great job of proving to Isaac that every stereotype about the wealthy seemed true. He gave her a deadpan look. “You gonna explain why you’re here?”

“Of course.” With her hands still behind her back, in her crisp uniform, Mackenzie spoke calmly and clearly. “I don’t wish to antagonize you. We are comrades. And, in the future, I will head the Cultivator Marine Corps. That means that, one day, I might have to send you to your death. I want to get better acquainted with you and all the future marines before I do so.”

That didn’t do much to dispel Isaac’s annoyance. “What makes you so confident you’ll lead the Corps some day?”

A brief smile flashed across her otherwise serene face. “Let me catch you up to speed on some things, Isaac. The Cartwright and Reed families are branches of a pre-Unleashing family that has since gone extinct. That’s why our powers are similar - the Cartwrights practice waves of all sorts, while the Reeds focuses on sound. In addition to leading our own cultivation sects, we were both merchant houses as well - we ruled the waves while the Reeds controlled the interior. That is why, during the Arcadian War of Independence, the Reeds fielded the army while the Cartwrights sailed the navy.”

Isaac knew about the Reeds involvement in Arcadia's founding some fifty years ago. Everyone did. Numerous propaganda posters and film reels depicted the young hero Viola Reed with her weapon of choice - the Sacred Spoons - leading the ragtag Arcadian rebel army against the Elysian governor at Quinsigamond, her companion Derek Domino with his mighty sword at her side. In contrast, Isaac hadn’t heard anything about the Navy’s role in the war.

“The Reed family overshadowed us, unfortunately. Arthur Reed became the first Supreme Commander of Arcadia, and the Army became the dominant institute of this country. They created the State Police to be their lackeys, but it became a group that they could no longer control. Nevertheless, the Army and State Police keep themselves allied to ensure the Navy remains the weakest of the three. That’s why Stockham, an outsider not of my family, a technocrat rather than a cultivator, runs the Corps. But they may soon find that’s he a choice that they can no longer control, either. Eventually, the position shall return to us, and I will hold that office.”

So far, Isaac hadn’t seen any signs of Stockham doing anything that could be seen as threatening to the establishment. But he supposed Mackenzie was far more in the know. “Thanks for all the context, but I’m guessing you’re just building up to something more personal?”

A brief nod answered him. “It’s prestigious for the sons and daughters of the elite to serve in the military. I was no different. I arrived here earlier this year as Circuit 1C, ready to fight and lead and improve myself. Can you imagine, on that first day, when I stood in that first row at morning reveille, they gave roll call and I found myself standing next to a Reed? My head wasn’t the only one to turn - Reeds don’t join the Navy. But you should’ve seen my face. I had never been more inspired. Right then and there, I vowed to display my superiority. I wanted to prove myself, and a Reed would be no better bar to compare myself against.”

A chuckle that mixed disbelief and amusement escaped her. “She passed out on the fourth lap of the morning run due to dehydration. When I saw them haul her away, I was…disappointed. In our time here together, I’ve reached Circuit 2B, have cleared multiple meridians and trained in multiple Arts, while all she’s done is watch over two hundred movies and talk about how she’s ‘building her empire’. I was so, so disappointed. I thought I had a rival, someone that would help me push myself, someone to motivate me, someone I could even…befriend. But it was all just a pipe dream.”

The image of Kieran training alone in the fields at night came to Isaac’s mind. Perhaps being rich meant that they had a lot of hangers-on and followers rather than real friends. Had Mackenzie or Kieran ever gotten a wrapped bowl as a genuine present from six people? But conversely - had they ever done anything to earn getting a genuine present?

“It made me look in the mirror, Isaac. The difference between Reed and I is that I have a want. I want to improve so I can become strong and restore the glory of my family and the Navy. I want to become strong to destroy the barbarians at Arcadia’s borders. Reed has no wants. I don’t approve of that, but I can understand it, having no wants…but if it leads to aimlessness and self-destruction, that’s something I can’t understand. I was no longer disappointed with her. I merely pitied her.”

One of her hands shifted from behind her back to her side. She tapped a finger against her hip, as if to help her speak this next part. “But it seems like, ever since you and Barbara came along, she’s been changing. It seems like she’s striving for something now.”

I want to want. “She’s striving to strive for something," Isaac informed her.

Mackenzie gave him an amused look. “Baby steps, I suppose. I didn’t come here to say thanks, but I want you to know that I appreciate it.”

“Isn’t that…isn’t that saying thanks?”

A hint of red came over her face. She looked off to the side. “A-anyway, I also wanted to apologize on behalf of Kieran. He’s been uncouth towards you…uncouth means unpleasant.”

“Bit of an understatement,” Isaac murmured (he wouldn't admit it, but he did need her to explain that definition). “And he should apologize himself, not send his sister here.”

“I came here myself,” Mackenzie corrected. “Kieran is not good with apologies since he’s not good with anything, really. But he tries so hard. His goal is to catch up to me and prove he’s an equal to his older sister. Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard…unfortunately for him, I work hard, so he will never achieve his goal. I suspect some part of him knows this, and it’s why he takes his anger out on those he believes to be his inferiors.”

“That doesn’t really excuse acting like a jerk, though.”

“Of course not. I just wanted to help you understand what’s going on in his mind.”

If Kieran was lashing out against Isaac because he had a dream he never could achieve, Isaac didn’t feel all that sorry for him, but maybe just a little. It wouldn’t change anything when it came to sparring, since Isaac had his own dream he wanted to achieve, but maybe knowledge like this could lessen the tension between them. Isaac wanted to understand the antagonistic forces arrayed against him, not just beat them to a pulp.

“Thank you for listening to me,” Mackenzie said with a slight nod. Isaac’s face had contorted in thought; she must’ve understood the positive conclusion he reached on the matter. “It’s all about perception. When I’m in charge, I don’t intend on this being an organization where the blind leads the blind.”

Mackenzie raised her fingers again to snap and dispel the |Dusk Cauldron|, but Isaac interrupted her. “There’s one thing I don’t understand, though. If your family is all about waves, then why does Kieran’s power involve iron? Why is his hair black and yours blonde? And how much older are you than him, anyway?”

The questions remained unanswered for a moment.

“You’ll have to ask him yourself,” she finally said, and then snapped her fingers to undo her power.


Reed and Babs must’ve taken a walloping from Mackenzie, since Isaac left the hospital before they woke back up. He shambled back toward his own room and flopped into bed. Apparently, the pain would only last the rest of the day; the hard part would be making it that far. Isaac rolled over, letting the cool concrete of his wall press against his face.

With nothing else to do, Isaac tried to sleep. When that failed, he decided to think.

So, Reed lacked ambition in a family that’s all about ambition, and I’m assuming all that pressure is what led to her running away to the Navy. And she still showed that same lack of desire here until fighting Panama…no, perhaps not until that State Police officer back in Patuxet threatened to splatter my brains all over the wall.

And I’m starting to suspect Kieran is a bastard child. That’s why he has so much to prove.

Isaac grinned. Perhaps I’m a bit of a brain expert after all.

He rolled over, the sudden self-esteem boost enabling him to place his hands behind his head and think as he stared at the ceiling. Then, if I’m a brain expert, then why can’t I figure out this Jasiel Abderrahmane Njord business? What did Mackenzie say? It’s all about perception. Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Maybe it’s a different kind of cipher or not even a name in the first place.

As the temporary boost died down, Isaac decided to collect himself by going through his CAMF.

I’m Circuit 1C. I’m almost at Rank 1 of 3 for the |Fists of Anji|. I opened a right palm meridian-

Hey…wait a minute.

Cultivation, Arts, Meridians, Foundational art - CAMF.

Jasiel Abderrahmane Njord - JAN?

The headache seemed to disappear into the background as Isaac slipped out of bed.


Fortunately, there were no lines at the Archive tonight - Isaac had arrived after sunset and nearly at closing. He didn’t waste any time. Upon his arrival, he asked the librarian for a phone book and list of authors. The phone book came first, and Isaac skipped through the yellow pages until he arrived at the J section.

If I’m right about this hunch, then Jasiel Abderrahmane Njord or JAN might not even be a name - for a person, that is. Could it refer to an organization? But would underground movements have an entry in the phone book? They wouldn’t, but cover organizations might.

In the time it took to ramble through those thoughts, Isaac had searched through the Js until he arrived at the organizations starting with JE-. He took another look and then, with a frown, closed the yellow book.

Isaac could feel the hunch slipping away from him. He ran a hand through his hair as the librarian took away the phone book and handed him the list of authors. With bated breath, Isaac opened the J section and looked through it. He was pressed for time, but he looked slowly, since if he got to the end without finding anything, he would be back to square one. He wanted the possibility of JAN being in this book to exist for as long as possible.

He got to the authors’ last names starting with Jam- and placed a finger on the page. He slid it down carefully, moving down the pages, until finally, finally-

Jan, Thomas. 1 book in the cultivation section, dating from forty-five years ago.