Chapter 36:

The Young Master VIII - "Deserved Suffering"

Destiny Marine

First things first though. Upon arriving home, Isaac immediately skimmed through his book from the library. He frowned as he realized the truth of the matter - to use the Knyzsosis Perception Art, he would need to clear a meridian behind one of his eyes. That would prove to be a difficult and lengthy process - should Isaac make a mistake while digging the metaphysical trench to his eyeball, he could very well blind himself. Furthermore, now that Isaac thought about it, he would only be able to clear that meridian and unlock the Art at night. Considering this was a dead Art with no modern usage, he would be in an awkward position if he had to explain to someone like Osip why he was cultivating for it while on the fields or in the training hall.

From conversations with his friends, Isaac heard that he could apply for "closed-door cultivation". That meant, rather than going to reveille or training, he could cultivate within his own room for several days with no outside disturbances. But to do that, he would need to fill out an application and explain to the higher-ups the goal of his closed-door session. He could lie, but based on a tale from Reed - who did lie and spent the whole three days reading comic books instead of cultivating - he would earn himself a trip to the brig or even a court martial.

The book closed with a disappointed clap and Isaac flopped into bed. It would be a lot of hard work, but he knew he was capable of doing it. He would train his |Fists of Anji| by day and pursue the Knyzsosis Art by night. He could only use its |Bolt| power; if he continued training it, he could use an attack that covered a wide area or strengthen its power even more. He felt lucky to have struck Kieran with it during the team combat practice; had he been unlucky, and had it been against someone like Panama, Isaac might’ve found himself exploded into a fine red mist. In life or death fights, Isaac didn’t trust luck.

And, on the bright side, he could train the |Fists of Anji| while helping Kieran with his training. Isaac placed his hands behind his head and looked up at the ceiling. He had never trained someone before; this whole time, he had been receiving help rather than giving it. As he pondered on what exactly he should do, the taste and smell of a fresh reuben percolated around his mind, and he drifted off to sleep.


Tuesday. High forties, cloudy skies. After morning reveille, morning classes, lunch, and laps around the track, Isaac expected Kieran to join him and the others for a session at the training hall. When he arrived at the doors, he realized Kieran was nowhere to be found. With a wipe of his face, Isaac supposed Kieran didn’t necessarily mean to start training right away, this very day. But that didn’t seem right, either. For all his faults, Kieran seemed to be a hard worker.

But Kieran wanted his help, so it was on him to find Isaac. He hadn’t found him, so Isaac felt no obligations at the moment. Instead, he entered the hall alongside Babs and Demetrius and punched out training dummies for the next few hours. When the mass of cadets left the training hall around dinner time, Isaac waved goodbye to Babs and their friends and went in the opposite direction of the mess hall. He knew he had no obligation to Kieran, but something drove his feet forward. Reed had no obligation to leave him little messages and wrapped bowls of food, but she did it anyway.

The temperature fell over the course of the day; Isaac wished he had brought his greatcoat with him. Perhaps Reed was onto something with perpetually wearing her own. Isaac rubbed his hands together for warmth as he arrived on the training fields. As he suspected, Kieran was still there, and likely had been there this whole time. He didn’t notice Isaac as he approached, instead continuing to strike the air with a frustrated expression on his face.

“I thought we were gonna start training today,” Isaac called out.

This brought Kieran back to reality. He side-eyed Isaac with an annoyed expression on his face. “We were. But you didn’t stay with me on the fields.”

“You didn’t ask. And I assumed we would be working on this at the training hall.”

Black hair drooped down to Kieran’s face. As he pushed it back up, Isaac realized his hair had grown longer since they first met. As if he had been neglecting things like that in single-minded pursuit of his training. Perhaps that’s where his problems started.

“Train in the hall? Then everyone would see me fail!”

“...they can see you failing out here, too.”

Kieran spread his arms wide. “In the hall, everyone who matters would see me fail. I have no issues with one of these unawakened northern or western would-be cultivators see me struggle. No matter what they may think about me, I don’t think about them at all. But for a fellow awakened cadet to see me fail, and fail continuously at that…”

An angry punch sailed through the air to emphasize his point. Rddhi flared from it, but there were no iron spikes of the |Flechette Storm| in sight.

Isaac looked at him with a raised eyebrow, and not just because his fellow awakened cadet Oksana sat nearby, locked in a staring competition with her snake. “But it took me three days of failing to finally use my |Fists of Anji|. I had to go three days with everybody looking at me fail. Hell, the majority of people there are technically failing. But another word for technically failing is training.”

Kieran sank to the ground and sat down on the grass. He wrapped his arms around his knees. “But that’s different. They’re all normal people. But I’m a Cartwright. Or at least, I’m trying to prove I am. I can’t fail in sight of those who have something to gain at my expense.”

God, what kind of warped worldview were you raised with?

But Isaac recognized some of his own flaws in that. He remained standing, but tried to speak gently. “I think I understand what’s going on. You have this big goal of trying to reach your sister, and because you’re focused on something large and abstract like that, you’re missing out on the here and now. Each time you punch, don’t worry about catching your sister. Don’t worry about anything at all. Just focus on the punch itself and your desire to launch the |Flechette Storm| from it.”

“But I have to catch her,” Kieran mumbled. “I have to prove myself. I can’t fail. I can’t.”

Isaac wished he could’ve been as gentle as Babs or even Reed. But he found his patience running thin. “Look, failing at something is usually the first step of not failing at something. You can either keep bitching and whining, or you can accept that you’re going to fail at first. What’s it going to be?”

Kieran shot right up. Rddhi crackled and flared through his fist. “You dare say something like that to me?”

Red Rddhi just started sparking through Isaac, but before he activated his cultivation powers, Kieran sighed and lowered his fist. “You’re right, you’re right. Sorry. I never had somebody speak the truth that bluntly to me before.” He wiped his mouth and looked at his fist. “I guess you got a point. I’m sure Mackenzie failed at first, too. But she can succeed in things faster than I can.” He looked over at Isaac. “Who told you that thing about failure?”

A fond memory of that night in his room where their backs touched appeared in Isaac's mind. “Babs Morang.”

“A street punk like that knows something smart like that?”

It was almost funny - street punk wasn’t even an insult at that point. It was just how somebody at the top saw things below him. Living at the top creates a disconnect from the reality the majority of people face in their everyday lives. But still-

“She probably knows more than either of us. And don't call her that again.”

A sliver of moonlight made it through a gap in the clouds and shone down upon Kieran’s face. “Sorry. And alright. Tomorrow, I’ll go to the training hall with you, and I’ll try to apply what you’ve told me. And Isaac…”


“Thank you.”

That’s all it took. Kieran wasn't a friend, but once again, Isaac clasped hands with someone below the moonlight.


Wednesday. Low forties, rain. And not the fun kind of summer rain; this was an autumn rain, chilled to the bone, the kind that drenches you and leaves you miserable afterwards.

This time, Isaac saw Kieran visibly swallow his pride as he walked alongside him towards the training hall. Demetrius and Babs had shit-eating grins on their faces. Even Lynn seemed to hold some amusement below her perpetually nervous expression. One of Kieran’s eyes twitched from the attention. Somebody had to say something, but before Isaac could break the ice, Babs spoke first.

“Ah, did the rich kid decide he needed help from his inferiors?”

Kieran’s mouth immediately opened to yell, but he cut himself short. He spoke in his best polite tone. "I just...hit a roadblock in my training. And need some help with it."

“I thought the young master was already perfect and didn’t need to improve,” Demetrius pointed out with a laugh.

Lynn nodded and laughed along. “Yeah, he’s such a dumb fucking loser!”

Everyone immediately gave her a confused look. Lynn just went back to twiddling her thumbs. “Sorry…I-I’ve never teased someone before. I’ll just...I’ll just stop talking.”

As Lynn stopped talking, Isaac realized the tension had left the air. Kieran walking alongside them had been a spectacle at first, but now he was just there, same as anyone else. That feeling only lasted until they reached the training hall; as everyone lined up in front of their training dummies, all eyes were back on the rich kid. Even the training dummy seemed to peer ominously at him, along with some northerners and westerners waiting in the wings. Isaac supposed Kieran sort of deserved this for all his arrogance earlier. He couldn’t just act smugly around people and not expect to receive something of the kind in return.

However, Kieran clearly didn’t expect something like this. His face burned red from the attention and he looked like he was on the verge of exploding at the growing crowd. Instead, Isaac stepped next to him.

“You reap what you sow,” he supposed. “You just gotta get on with it. A spectacle can only go on for so long.”

Kieran swallowed and slowly nodded. As Isaac stepped back, red Rddhi sparked through Kieran as he activated his power. The crowd quieted down, anticipation on all of their faces. The object of their attention raised his fist, reared back, and then fired-

Nothing appeared. No iron spikes, no storm of flechettes. For a moment, all was quiet, and then thunderous laughter erupted through the hall. It echoed around the converted warehouse, all these faces contorted with jeering and laughter, with Kieran in the center of it all. He was bright red, his hands trembled, and his lip quivered. Again, Isaac felt that he deserved it, but deserved suffering hurts just as much as undeserved suffering.

Another spark of red silenced the crowd. As Rddhi flowed through him, Isaac reared his own fist back and fired the |Fists of Anji|. The crowd ooh’d and aah’d until they saw that the electric charge only succeeded in making a charred black streak on the floor below the training dummy.

“Isaac, I love you, but you kind of suck at this,” Babs pointed out, sending another cascade of laughter through the hall. But then it was her turn to go, and her |Winds of Change| only succeeded in missing the dummy and tearing Lynn’s jacket off. Demetrius flexed his shirt off to make her feel better, and some northerners started jeering at each other, the westerners struck their own dummies, and the moment of spectacle disappeared in favor of the usual routine.

The red slowly disappeared from Kieran’s face as everybody went back to their own business. Isaac nodded at his training dummy, then started training. Kieran did the same. But then Kieran disappeared from Isaac’s thoughts, as did the rest of the training hall. For the next few hours, the entire world merely consisted of Isaac and the training dummy before him.

When he finally took a break to drink water from his canteen, he saw the determined look on Kieran’s face and realized it must’ve been the same for him.